So cowards fight when they can fly no further; As doves do peck the falcon’s piercing talons; So desperate thieves, all hopeless of their lives, Breathe out invectives ‘gainst the officers.
The powerful retractile talons of the falcon- and the cat-tribes have not been produced or increased by the volition of those animals; but among the different varieties which occurred in the earlier and less highly organized forms of these groups, those always survived longest which had the greatest facilities for seizing their prey. Neither did the giraffe acquire its long neck by desiring to reach the foliage of the more lofty shrubs, and constantly stretching its neck for the purpose, but because any varieties which occurred among its antitypes with a longer neck than usual at once secured a fresh range of pasture over the same ground as their shorter-necked companions, and on the first scarcity of food were thereby enabled to outlive them. […] We believe we have now shown that there is a tendency in nature to the continued progression of certain classes of varieties further and further from the original type – a progression to which there appears no reason to assign any definite limits – and that the same principle which produces this result in a state of nature will also explain why domestic varieties have a tendency to revert to the original type. This progression, by minute steps, in various directions, but always checked and balanced by the necessary conditions, subject to which alone existence can be preserved, may, it is believed, be followed out so as to agree with all the phenomena presented by organized beings, their extinction and succession in past ages, and all the extraordinary modifications of form, instinct, and habits which they exhibit.
alfred russel wallace: “On the Tendency of Varieties to Depart Indefinitely From the Original Type” (1858)