The context, which is from Henry James's novelette "The Real Thing", goes as follows.
" .....;I looked to a different branch of art - far and away the most interesting it had always seemed to me - to perpetuate my fame. There was no shame in looking to it also to make my fortune; but that fortune was by so much further from being made from the moment my visitors wished to be ‘done’ for nothing."
What baffles me is the use of "by" here. Is it part of a set phrase? Or it is just used here to denote degree as in such a sentence like "The price fell by 20percent"？Or something else? Any help will be much appreciated.
I think it means that by the time he found that his visitors wanted to be 'done' for nothing [was he an artist who did portraits?],he had already started [and maybe finished?...]. The day when he was finally going to 'make his fortune' was delayed by the amount of time he spent working for nothing.
But Henry James is not a useful model. People don't speak like that now - if they ever did