The next day Lydgate goes to see Farebrother in the old parsonage where he lives. The vicar’s mother Mrs. Farebrother is also there, as is her sister Miss Noble, and Mr. Farebrother’s sister Winifred. Lydgate knew Farebrother was unmarried and thus did not expect for there to be so many women present. Mrs. Farebrother is the most talkative of everyone present, and is clearly used to telling people what to do. She is convinced that most ill health is the result of overeating. Mr. Farebrother observes that his mother is like King George III, because she “objects to metaphysics.”
Farebrother’s three unmarried female relatives often serve as a source of comic relief in the novel. This happens here through Mrs. Farebrother’s old-fashioned, anachronistic views, which mark her out from the already backwards and “provincial” world of Middlemarch. The Farebrother household is unusual in that it consists of four adults, none of whom are married.
Mrs. Farebrother replies that in her youth, everyone had the same sense of true and false, right and wrong. Nowadays no one agrees with one another. She laments that there is even a lot of dissent among clergymen. They discuss Mr. Tyke; Farebrother calls him “a zealous fellow” who is not very educated or intelligent. Farebrother invites Lydgate to his study to see his “collection,” despite the protests of the women that Lydgate should stay and have another cup of tea. The collection consists of preserved animals, insects, plants, and flowers from the local area.
In the nineteenth century, science is only just starting to become a professional discipline practiced by a trained group of people. As Farebrother’s collection shows, amateurs and hobbyists still have a significant role to play in scientific activities and the development of scientific knowledge.
Lydgate mentions that he doesn’t really have any hobbies outside of medicine, and Farebrother comments that this is lucky. Farebrother smokes a pipe and Lydgate wonders if the vicar might be in the wrong profession. Farebrother mentions that he knows Lydgate’s former roommate from Paris, Mr. Trawley. Lydgate asks after Trawley, and Farebrother says he is working as a doctor at a German bath and is married to a wealthy patient. Lydgate scoffs at this and stresses that the medical industry is in need of reform.
This passage indicates that Lydgate may be a bit narrow-minded and overly judgmental. This is shown both through his admission that he doesn’t have any interests outside medicine, and through his scornful reaction to his old friend’s marriage. Like most of Middlemarch, Lydgate has a tendency to hastily jump to judgment even when he does not have much information about a situation.
Farebrother comments that it is wonderful that Lydgate has a career he is so passionate about, but that he shouldn’t neglect the issue of marriage. He advises Lydgate that having a good wife could actually help his work, and asks if Lydgate knows Mary Garth, who is one of his favorite young women. Lydgate admits that he has barely noticed Mary. They then discuss Bulstrode, and Farebrother warns Lydgate that if he votes against Bulstrode, “you will make him your enemy.” Lydgate haughtily responds that he doesn’t need to worry about that. However, he also concedes that Bulstrode has been helpful in supporting his plans.
Now we see that, like Rosamond, Lydgate also suffers from hubris. His dismissal of Farebrother’s warning indicates that he thinks he knows better than Farebrother, even though he is new to Middlemarch and thus still does not fully grasp how things work there. Lydgate has too much confidence in his own ability without paying attention to the fact that he will need allies and collaborators to succeed.
Farebrother says that he himself is not a fan of Bulstrode’s crowd, who he thinks are a “narrow ignorant set.” At the same time, he thinks the New Hospital will be good for the community. Lydgate asks Farebrother why Bulstrode doesn’t like him, and Farebrother explains it is because he doesn’t preach “spiritual religion.” Also, Bulstrode believes that Farebrother is already too busy to take on additional duties at the hospital. Farebrother warns Lydgate about voting against Bulstrode.
As we can see here, the problem with the chaplaincy decision is that it involves both important, valid considerations (such as whether Farebrother is too busy to take on the role) and petty, irrelevant factors, such as personal preference and allegiances. This makes the whole affair more complicated than it needs to be.