St. Ogg's is "one of those old, old towns which impress one as a continuation and outgrowth of nature." It is named for its patron saint, who was a boatman operating a ferry across the river Floss. It is said that one evening when the winds were high, a woman with a child wished to cross the river, but no one would take her. Ogg took pity on her and ferried her across. When she stepped ashore, "her rags were turned into robes of flowing white," and she blessed Ogg and his boat, so that when floods came he saved many lives. When he died, his boat parted its mooring and floated off to the sea, but ever after when the floods came, he could be seen at evening on the water with the Blessed Virgin in his boat.
The old days have been forgotten in St. Ogg's, which "had no eyes for the spirits that walked the streets." Faith is of no importance to anyone, ignorance is "received with all the honours in very good society," and respectability is passed down from one generation to the next.
This is the town in which the Gleggs live. Mr. Glegg is a retired wool merchant who now devotes himself to his garden and his meditations on "the 'contrairiness' of the female mind." His wife is his best example of contrariness. He chose her because she was handsome and thrifty, but somehow her stinginess does not complement his own. Mr. Glegg is "a lovable skinflint," but while his wife is also a skinflint, she is less lovable. However, he has convinced himself that "a little daily snapping and quarreling" is not objectionable.
Today he is silent at breakfast so that there will be no opportunity to quarrel, "but by-and-by it appeared that his silence would answer the purpose." She scorns him for allowing her to be insulted by Tulliver. He replies that, as he has said before, she is wrong to think of calling in her money, since it will be hard to get as much return on it elsewhere. She tends to agree with this, but continues the argument anyway until Mr. Glegg hints that he has provided for her after his death "beyond anything she could expect." At this Mrs. Glegg retires to her room, apparently still angry, to cherish the thought of being a "widow well left." When Mr. Glegg comes in after his gardening, she is quite cordial, and agrees that she should let Tulliver keep the five hundred a while longer.
The story of Ogg the boatman, and the author's comments on it, carry a main theme of the novel. Particularly to be noted are the words of the Virgin: "Thou art blessed in that thou didst not question and wrangle with the heart's need, but wast smitten with pity, and didst straight way relieve the same." Note too the imagery, the symbolism of the boat floating downriver as the soul departs in death.
The author's comment is greatly concerned with the record of floods and destruction in the past. This prepares for the flood which ends the book. There are also two general comments which use the past to shed light on the inner nature of present characters. One of these is that in past generations "many honest citizens lost all their possessions for conscience' sake" — as, in a different context, Maggie is to do. The other shows self-interest like that which we have already seen, but on a grander scale — war is thought of as "a past golden age, when prices were high."
Mrs. Glegg is further developed. The author frequently shows things from Mrs. Glegg's point of view, but always ironically. Probably this is necessary in order to make her bearable. Mrs. Glegg is severely correct, egoistic, and money-centered. But the humor with which she is presented saves her. There are some perceptive small touches: for example, that she had a particular book — Saints' Everlasting Rest — which she "was accustomed to lay open before her" on special days.
Mr. Glegg is equally money-oriented, but he has none of his wife's severity. He is "a lovable skinflint." Part of the author's analysis of him is important later if we are to understand the actions of Mrs. Tulliver's family after Tulliver's bankruptcy: "his eyes would have watered with true feeling over the sale of a widow's furniture, which a five-pound note from his side-pocket would have prevented"; for "charity . . . had always presented itself to him as a contribution of small aids, not a neutralising of misfortune." This is exactly the sort of help offered the Tullivers after Mr. Tulliver's bankruptcy.