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Darwin Correspondence Project

From T. H. Huxley   19 May 1875

31 Royal Terrace | Edinburgh

May 19. 1875

My dear Darwin

Playfair has sent a copy of his Bill to me and I am sorry to find that its present wording is such as to render it very unacceptable to all teachers of Physiology1

In discussing the draft with Litchfield I recollect that I insisted strongly on the necessity of allowing demonstrations to students— but I agreed that it would be sufficient to permit such demonstrations only as could be performed under anaesthetics

The second clause of the bill however, by the words “for the purpose of new scientific discovery & for no other purpose”—absolutely prohibits any kind of demonstration2   It would debar me from shewing the circulation in the web of a frog’s foot or from exhibiting the pulsations of the heart in a decapitated frog—

And by its secondary effect it would prohibit discovery— Who is to be able to make discoveries unless he knows of his own knowledge, what has already been made out   It might as well be ruled that a chemical student should begin with organic analyses—

Surely Burdon Sanderson did not see the draft of the Bill as it now stands—3 The Professors here are up in arms about it—and as the papers have associated my name with the Bill—I shall have to repudiate it publicly unless something can be done— But what in the world is to be done? I have not written to Playfair yet & shall wait to hear from you before I do— I have an excellent class here, 340 odd—& like the work—4

Best regards to Mrs Darwin | Ever Yours faithfully | T H Huxley

CD annotations

5.2 The Professors … done— 5.4] quotation marks added ink5


On behalf of CD and other men of science, Lyon Playfair had introduced a bill to the House of Commons for the regulation of vivisection (see letter to Lyon Playfair, 15 May [1875]). Before presenting the bill, Playfair put it into parliamentary form, although he claimed not to have made substantive changes (see letter from Lyon Playfair, 27 May 1875).
The last printed draft of the bill, made by Richard Buckley Litchfield and dated 24 April 1875, stated that scientific experiments could be made on anaesthetised live animals for the purposes of ‘demonstration, illustration, or new discovery’ (DAR 139.17: 22). In the version of the bill presented to Parliament, this had been changed to the statement quoted by Huxley. CD’s copy of the bill ordered by the House of Commons to be printed on 12 May 1875 is in DAR 139.17: 23; see also House of Commons Parliamentary Papers: A bill to prevent abuse and cruelty in experiments on animals made for the purpose of scientific discovery; 1875 (163) II.167.
John Scott Burdon Sanderson had seen Playfair’s bill (see letter from J. S. Burdon Sanderson, [8 May 1875]). This was confirmed by Playfair (see letter from Lyon Playfair, 27 May 1875).
Huxley was teaching zoology at the University of Edinburgh while the professor of zoology Charles Wyville Thompson was on the HMS Challenger expedition; in Scottish universities the lecturer collected fees directly from the students, making large classes highly profitable (University of Edinburgh Journal 10 (1939–40): 210–12).
CD quoted this section in his letter to Lyon Playfair, 26 May 1875.


Lyon Playfair’s bill [on vivisection] is unacceptable to all teachers of physiology. It prohibits dissections for demonstrations to students. He will have to repudiate it. Asks CD’s advice.

Letter details

Letter no.
Thomas Henry Huxley
Charles Robert Darwin
Sent from
Source of text
DAR 166: 340
Physical description

Please cite as

Darwin Correspondence Project, “Letter no. 9985,” accessed on 4 December 2020,

Also published in The Correspondence of Charles Darwin, vol. 23