Sir James comes to lunch at the Cadwalladers’, and the group discuss their disapproval of Mr. Brooke’s latest endeavor. They speculate about whether Mr. Brooke will run for election; Mr. Cadwallader says there are rumors that Bulstrode is backing this plan. Sir James is concerned that Mr. Brooke is in danger of losing his dignity, and notes that Ladislaw doesn’t want Brooke to run in the upcoming election. Mrs. Cadwallader thinks Ladislaw is “dangerous” and has radical ideas. Sir James thinks it is regrettable that anyone of Ladislaw’s rank should stoop to working at a newspaper.
This scene demonstrates a range of the reasons why the rather conservative Middlemarchers oppose progressive politics. Not only do they oppose Reform, but they think it is improper for people like Brooke and Ladislaw to demean themselves by getting involved with politics. They fear anything that seems too progressive as a form of “radicalism.”
Sir James criticizes the way Mr. Brooke runs his estate, saying that he doesn’t take good enough care of his tenants. He thinks Caleb Garth should take over managing it, as he did until 12 years ago when Brooke fired him. Brooke enters, and Mr. Cadwallader shows him a copy of the Trumpet accusing him of being a bad landlord who is “retrogressive” and “evil.” Brooke tries to take the criticism in stride, but turns red as he speaks.
It might seem surprising that Sir James should also criticize Brooke for being a bad landlord considering that James is not sympathetic to social progress. The model of existence James appears to subscribe to is one of “noblesse oblige” wherein the nobility have a duty to take care of the less fortunate—yet also retain their disproportionate wealth and power.
Sir James mentions Garth’s farming innovations and Brooke says he doesn’t have the money for that; Mrs. Cadwallader then points out that running for parliament is extremely expensive. Mr. Cadwallader says he thinks Brooke should immediately hire Garth to renovate his farms in order to disprove the Trumpet’s accusations. Brooke simply replies that he is not actually such a bad landlord.
For all their opposition to Reform, Brooke’s friends actually give him some very useful advice. As anyone familiar with politics knows, it is vital that someone running for public office make sure that their personal life accords with their political positions.