incidentally, this is I think my favorite whistler painting.
In 1877 James McNeill Whistler sued John Ruskin for panning his painting Nocturne in Black and Gold. “I have seen, and heard, much of Cockney impudence before now,” Ruskin had written, “but never expected to hear a coxcomb ask two hundred guineas for flinging a pot of paint in the public’s face.” The trial saw this exchange between Whistler and Ruskin’s attorney, Sir John Holker:
Holker: Did it take you much time to paint the Nocturne in Black and Gold? How soon did you knock it off?
Whistler: Oh, I “knock one off” possibly in a couple of days — one day to do the work and another to finish it.
Holker: The labour of two days is that for which you ask two hundred guineas?
Whistler: No, I ask it for the knowledge I have gained in the work of a lifetime.
Similar: When Henry Ford’s engineers were unable to solve a problem with a huge new generator, he called Charles Steinmetz. Steinmetz listened to the generator for two days, made some calculations, mounted a ladder, and drew a chalk mark on its side. If the engineers would remove 16 windings from the field coil at that location, he said, the generator would work perfectly. He was right.
Afterward, Ford received a bill for $10,000. When he respectfully asked for an itemization, Steinmetz sent this:
Making chalk mark on generator: $1
Knowing where to make mark: $9,999
Total due: $10,000
For her 1974 book Lighter Side of the Library, Janice Glover asked American librarians to recall titles requested by confused patrons, and the books they turned out to want:
Requested: Who Is Your Schoolmaster?
Book wanted: Hoosier Schoolmaster
Requested: Entombed With an Infant
Book wanted: In Tune With the Infinite
Requested: The Missing Hand
Book wanted: A Farewell to Arms
Requested: The Armored Chinaman
Book wanted: The Chink in the Armour
Requested: King of the Ants
Book wanted: Lord of the Flies
Requested: The Wooden Kid
Book wanted: Pinocchio
Requested: Five Pennies and the Sun
Book wanted: The Moon and Sixpence
And so on: From Here to Maternity; The Merchant of Venus; “Allergy in a Country Churchyard”; My Heart Is Wounded, They Buried My Knee. One inspired library staff finally sent a student home with Homer’s Iliad; he had come in asking for Homeless Idiot.