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The chapter opens with a description of Mr. Farebrother's vicarage (a.k.a. the house where the vicar lives, usually next to the church where he preaches).
Lydgate arrives to pay Mr. Farebrother a visit.
Farebrother lives with his mother and his mother's unmarried sister.
His mother is opinionated and talkative, and her sister, Miss Noble, is a timid woman who loves stashing her sugar into a basket to give to poor children later, instead of putting it in her tea.
They are discussing different kinds of preaching, and the subject of Mr. Tyke comes up – Tyke is the man that Mr. Bulstrode wants to appoint as the chaplain of the new hospital instead of Mr. Farebrother.
Apparently some of Mr. Tyke's parishioners (i.e., people who live in the neighborhood of his church, and should therefore attend services there) have been coming to hear Mr. Farebrother, instead, and Mr. Tyke is jealous and angry about it.
After a while, Mr. Farebrother invites Lydgate into his study to see his collection of bottled insects, bones, and other natural specimens.
Lydgate quickly realizes that Farebrother ought to have been a scientist, rather than a vicar – he's not "in the right profession" (2.17.27).
The two of them go back and forth between discussing biology and discussing professional ethics – whether it's better to stay entirely independent, or to humor people to some extent to keep them from turning against you.
The subject then turns to Mr. Bulstrode, and Mr. Farebrother frankly says that he doesn't care for Mr. Bulstrode's religion or politics. Bulstrode, he says, thinks that the rest of the world is doomed for hellfire and damnation, and does more to make the people around him uncomfortable than to make them better people.
Lydgate doesn't care much about Bulstrode's religious notions, so long as he's willing to fund the new hospital, which is, after all, needed.
Farebrother openly says that Lydgate shouldn't worry about offending him by voting for Tyke as the chaplain of the new hospital. Farebrother could use the increased salary, but if Lydgate votes against Bulstrode's wishes, he'll be in trouble, himself. And Bulstrode is a bad enemy to have in Middlemarch.