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Life and Letters of Charles Darwin, volume 2 includes the following letter from Darwin to Asa Gray, written about a review of his new book:

I have been rather extra busy, so have been slack in answering your note of May 6th. I hope you have received long ago the third edition of the 'Origin.'... I have heard nothing from Trubner of the sale of your Essay, hence fear it has not been great; I wrote to say you could supply more. I send a copy to Sir J. Herschel, and in his new edition of his 'Physical Geography' he has a note on the 'Origin of Species,' and agrees, to a certain limited extent, but puts in a caution on design—much like yours... I have been led to think more on this subject of late, and grieve to say that I come to differ more from you. It is not that designed variation makes, as it seems to me, my deity "Natural Selection" superfluous, but rather from studying, lately, domestic variation, and seeing what an enormous field of undesigned variability there is ready for natural selection to appropriate for any purpose useful to each creature.

I can't get the whole meaning of this last passage, especially the meaning of the second part of it; i.e what's based on "studying ... and seeing what ...."?

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Let us discuss this first:

what an enormous field of undesigned variability there is ready for natural selection to appropriate for any purpose useful to each creature.

If this were a stand-alone sentence, it would probably be phrased "There is a an enormous field of undesigned variability" as the main clause and then, a relative cause "that is ready for natural selection to appropriate for any purpose useful to each creature." The relative clause would modify "field".

He had studied this, which led him to believe that "designed variability" was superfluous.

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  • So he meant "but the contrary of that; from studying ....."? The meaning of "rather" here. Aug 10 at 11:38

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