From ‘Christopher North’

(A Memoir of John Wilson, Late Professor of Moral Philosophy in the University of Edinburgh, Compiled from Family Papers and Other Sources by His Daughter, Mrs. Gordon)

His attainments as a leaper were more remarkable. For this exercise he had, in the words of the writer already quoted, “two remarkable advantages. A short trunk and remarkably long legs gave him one-half his advantage in the noble science of leaping; the other half was pointed out to me by an accurate critic in these matters, as lying in the particular conformation of his foot, the instep of which is arched, and the back of the heel strengthened in so remarkable a way, that it would be worth paying a penny for a sight of them.” After referring to the boastful vanity of the celebrated Cardinal du Perron on this point, he adds:—“The Cardinal, by his own account, appears to have been the flower of Popish leapers; and, with all deference to his Eminence, upon a better assurance than that, Professor Wilson may be rated, at the time I speak of, as the flower of all Protestant leapers. Not having the Cardinal’s foible of connecting any vanity with this little accomplishment, knowing exactly what could, and what could not be effected in this department of gymnastics, and speaking with the utmost simplicity and candor of his failures and his successes alike, he might always be relied upon, and his statements were constantly in harmony with any collateral testimony that chance happened to turn up.”

His most remarkable feat of this kind, the fame of which still lingers round the spot where it took place, is thus referred to by himself:—“A hundred sovereigns to five against any man in England doing twenty-three feet on a dead level, with a run and a leap on a slightly inclined plane, perhaps an inch to a yard. We have seen twenty-three feet done in great style, and measured to a nicety, but the man who did it (aged twenty-one, height, five feet eleven inches, weight, eleven stone) was admitted to be (Ireland excepted) the best far leaper of his day in England.”*

This achievement, worthy of one of Dr. Dasent’s favorite heroes, took place in the presence of many spectators, at a bend of the Cherwell, a tributary of the Isis, where it glides beautifully through the enamelled meads of Christ Church, the leap being taken across the stream.

* “Essay on Gymnastics.”