Having heard Fred’s story, Mr. Vincy goes straight to the bank to speak with Bulstrode. People in Middlemarch distrust Bulstrode, some because he is a “Pharisee” and some because he is an “Evangelical.” Others are suspicious of him because only 25 years ago no one had heard the name Bulstrode in Middlemarch. He is currently with Lydgate in his office at the bank, discussing the New Hospital. Lydgate hopes that having a good fever hospital in Middlemarch could pave the way for a medical school attached to it, which would serve as a model for other, similar schools all over England.
The terms used to insult Bulstrode help contextualize why his religious beliefs are so strongly rejected in Middlemarch. At this time, the Church of England was still very dominant, and Anglicanism was an essential part of “respectable” society. Anglicans objected to both the strictness and the evangelism of “nonconformist” religious groups and believed that these characteristics clashed with norms of propriety.
Lydgate has a charismatic speaking voice, and Bulstrode is moved. He agrees to help finance Lydgate’s ambitions. He warns Lydgate that the other doctors in Middlemarch will be inclined to dislike him due to his support for medical reform. Lydgate promises that he will enjoy fighting for what he believes. Bulstrode admits that the quality of doctors in Middlemarch is very poor, and that his experience being treated by city doctors has convinced him that the medical field in provincial areas is severely deficient.
Throughout the novel it is suggested that in order to effectively confront the widespread opposition to reform, it is necessary to be a passionate idealist like Lydgate. At the same time, there is always a risk that this idealism might morph into naïve fantasy. Lydgate’s passion is remarkable, but will it be enough for him to survive the bitter opposition that awaits?
Bulstrode explains that the old infirmary lies in the parish of Mr. Farebrother, but that he wants someone named Mr. Tyke to be appointed chaplain of the New Hospital. Lydgate says that as a doctor he has no opinion on this, but Bulstrode urges that when the matter is discussed at the meeting of the medical board, Lydgate should not let himself be persuaded by Bulstrode’s “opponents.” When Lydgate simply replies that he hopes there will be no disagreement, Bulstrode begins to explain that his interest in hospitals is about more than just curing people of illness.
Here Lydgate’s idealism already runs into trouble. He initially believes that as a doctor, there is no need for him to take a position on matters such as the hospital’s chaplain. However, due to the alliances and conflicts that exist within Middlemarch, there is no such thing as being neutral—even on matters about which one has no personal preference or opinion.
Just as Lydgate disagrees, Mr. Vincy enters. Lydgate leaves, and Vincy immediately brings up Fred, saying that someone has been spreading rumors about him. Vincy goes on to say that people are obviously jealous because Featherstone intends to leave most of his land to Fred. Bulstrode immediately chastises Vincy for spoiling his children, which has given Fred “extravagant idle habits.” Vincy decides to take this in his stride, saying that he may have made mistakes but it’s too late to change them now.
Here we see an example of the kind of religious behavior Middlemarchers object to. Bulstrode’s faith means that he is openly judgmental of other people and believes in sticking rigidly to principles. Of course, the reality is that everyone is judgmental in Middlemarch—but it is considered improper to pronounce one’s judgments in the direct way that Bulstrode does here.
Vincy explains that someone has been saying Fred has been borrowing money, a story that is clearly “nonsense,” but that Featherstone wants a note from Bulstrode denying it. However, Bulstrode replies that Fred has been borrowing money and that he therefore doesn’t see why he should write the letter. Vincy loses his temper and reminds Bulstrode that the fate of their two families hangs together. If the Vincys go down, the Bulstrodes will go down with them. He curses Bulstrode’s desire “to play bishop and banker everywhere,” saying that this will turn people against him.
Here we see how respectability and in particular family reputation trump moral principles. Mr. Vincy does not seem to care that Fred did actually borrow money—his focus is on whether that information will become public. He sees it as obvious that Bulstrode should help him cover up Fred’s debt in order to save the reputation of their families, rather than honoring the truth.
Bulstrode requests that they not fight, for the sake of Mrs. Bulstrode, Vincy’s sister. Vincy agrees, saying that considering they are brothers-in-law they should “stick together.” As Vincy goes to leave, Bulstrode tells him that he will think about it, discuss the matter with Mrs. Bulstrode, and “probably” write the letter.
Vincy’s appeal to their family connection evidently worked, as Bulstrode has hinted that he will comply with Vincy’s request now that he has considered how it would make his wife feel to know the men were fighting.