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John Hewit And Sarah Drew


On the 31st of July 1718, John Hewit and Sarah Drew were in a field near Stanton Harcourt in Oxfordshire. They were rustic lovers; he about twenty-five years of age, and she a comely maiden a little younger. They were betrothed, and had, on that very morning, obtained the consent of the parents on both sides to their marriage, which was to take place on the following week. The poet, Alexander Pope, was a guest at Stanton Harcourt at the time; and he recorded the tragic incident of the day in the following words:
Between two and three o’clock in the afternoon, the clouds grew black, and such a storm of thunder and lightning ensued that all the labourers made the best of their way to what shelter the trees and hedges afforded. Sarah was frightened, and fell down in a swoon on a heap of barley; John, who never separated from her, having raked together two or three heaps the better to secure her from the storm. Immediately after was heard so loud a crash as if the heavens had split asunder. Every one was now solicitous for his neighbour, and they called to one another throughout the field.

No answer being returned to those who called to the lovers, they stepped to the place where they lay. They perceived the barley all in a smoke, and then spied the faithful pair; John with one arm about Sarah’s neck, and the other held over her, as if to screen her from the lightning. They were struck dead, and stiffened in this tender posture. Sarah’s left eye was injured, and there appeared a black spot on her breast. Her lover was blackened all over; not the least sign of life was found in either. Attended by their melancholy companions, they were conveyed to the town, and next day were interred in Stanton Harcourt churchyard.
Pope wrote the following epitaph which was engraved on a stone in the parish church of Stanton Harcourt:
Near this place lie the bodies
An industrious young man
And virtuous young maiden of this parish;
Who, being at harvest work (with several others),
Were in one instant killed by lightning,
The last day of July, 1718.
Think not by rigorous judgment seized
A pair so faithful could expire;
Victims so pure, Heaven saw well pleased.
And snatched them in eternal fire.
Live well, and fear no sudden fate;
When God calls victims to the grave,
Alike ’tis justice soon or late,
Mercy alike to kill or save.
Virtue unmoved can hear the call,
And face the flash that melts the ball.

Another guest at Stanton Harcourt was Lady Mary Wortley Montagu who recorded in her diary that Pope had joked with her that he had also composed a somewhat less respectful epitaph:
Here lye two poor Lovers
Who had the mishap,
Tho very chaste people
Died of the Clap.

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