In 1808 Thomas Young introduced his Croonian lecture to the Royal Society on the function of the heart and arteries with the words:
The mechanical motions, which take place in an animal body, are regulated by the same general laws as the motions of inanimate bodies … and it is obvious that the inquiry, in what manner and in what degree, the circulation of the blood depends on the muscular and elastic powers of the heart and of the arteries, supposing the nature of those powers to be known, must become simply a question belonging to the most refined departments of the theory of hydraulics.
For Young this was a natural approach to physiology; like many other scientists in the nineteenth century, he paid scant attention to the distinction between biological and physical science. Indeed, during his lifetime he was both a practising physician and a professor of physics; and, although he is remembered today mainly for his work on the wave theory of light and because the elastic modulus of materials is named after him, he also wrote authoritatively about optic mechanisms, colour vision, and the blood circulation, including wave propagation in arteries.
This polymath tradition seems to have been particularly strong among the early students of the circulation, as names like Borelli, Hales, Bernoulli, Euler, Poiseuille, Helmholtz, Fick, and Frank testify; but, as science developed, so did specialization and the study of the cardiovascular system became separated from physical science.