The czarina Maria Fëdorovna was known throughout Russia for her philanthropy. She once saved a prisoner from transportation to Siberia by transposing a single comma in a warrant signed by Alexander. The czar had written: "Pardon impossible, to be sent to Siberia." After Maria's intervention, the note read: "Pardon, impossible to be sent to Siberia." The prisoner was subsequently released.
One day Joseph Lister was summoned to assist a wealthy lord with a fishbone that had lodged at the back of his throat. After Lister had skillfully removed the obstruction, the grateful patient asked him what he was owed. "My lord," Lister suggested, "suppose we settle for half of what you would be willing to give me if the bone were still lodged in your throat.
Arnold Bennett visited Irish playwright George Bernard Shaw in his apartment and, knowing his host's love of flowers, was surprised that there was not a single vase of flowers to be seen. He remarked on their absence to Shaw: "But I thought you were so fond of flowers."
"I am," said Shaw, "and I'm very fond of children, too, but I don't chop their heads off and stand them in pots about the house.
On May 4, 1897, Duchesse d'Alençon was presiding over a charity bazaar in Paris when the hall accidentally caught fire. Flames spread to the paper decorations and flimsy walls of the booths, and in seconds the place was an inferno. In the hideous panic that followed, many women and children were trampled as they rushed for the exits, while the workmen from a nearby site performed incredible acts of heroism, rushing into the blaze to carry out the trapped women. Some rescuers reached the duchess, who had remained calmly seated behind her booth. "Because of my title, I was the first to enter here. I shall be the last to go out," she said, rejecting their offer of help. She stayed and was burned to death, along with more than 120 others, mainly women and children.
In 1941 Sergeant James Allen Ward was awarded the Victoria Cross for climbing out onto the wing of his Wellington bomber at thirteen thousand feet to extinguish a fire in the starboard engine. Secured only by a rope around his waist, he smothered the fire and returned along the wing to the aircraft's cabin. Winston Churchill, an admirer of swashbuckling exploits, summoned the shy New Zealander to 10 Downing Street. Struck dumb with awe in Churchill's presence, Ward was unable to answer the prime minister's questions. Churchill surveyed the unhappy hero with some compassion. "You must feel very humble and awkward in my presence," he said.
"Yes, sir," managed Ward.
"Then you can imagine how humble and awkward I feel in yours," said Churchill.