Books: West Pointer with a Brush

THE MAN WHISTLER (276 pp.)—Hesketh Pearson—Harper ($3.75).

In a West Point chemistry class one day in 1854, Cadet James Abbot Whistler was asked to discuss silicon. He began: "Silicon is a gas." "That will do, Mr. Whistler," said the professor—and shortly thereafter Cadet Whistler was handed his discharge papers. In later years, when he had made himself one of the finest painters of his day, he liked to say: "If silicon had been a gas, I would have been a general."

The episode foreshadowed more than a bon mot. When Whistler died (in 1903), his famed Mother was almost the only solid...

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