A Study in Scarlet

John H. Watson Character Analysis

The narrator for most of the novel, Watson is a British army doctor who was injured during the Afghan war. Upon his return to England he becomes Sherlock Holmes’ roommate and companion. At the beginning of the novel, Watson often describes himself as friendless and lonely, with a “meaningless existence,” but as he accompanies Holmes on the case, he befriends the consulting detective, despite all their differences. A foil to Holmes’ analytical prowess, Watson is at once quite intelligent but also completely unable to follow Holmes’ incredibly rapid deductions. Watson often marvels at his friend’s abilities. Whereas Holmes is an eccentric and larger-than-life character, Watson allows us to view Holmes and their cases together through the eyes of an ordinary man.

John H. Watson Quotes in A Study in Scarlet

The A Study in Scarlet quotes below are all either spoken by John H. Watson or refer to John H. Watson. For each quote, you can also see the other characters and themes related to it (each theme is indicated by its own dot and icon, like this one:
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). Note: all page numbers and citation info for the quotes below refer to the Penguin Classics edition of A Study in Scarlet published in 2001.
Part 1, Chapter 1 Quotes

I had neither kith nor kin in England, and was therefore as free as air — or as free as an income of eleven shillings and sixpence a day will permit a man to be. Under such circumstances I naturally gravitated to London, that great cesspool into which all the loungers and idlers of the Empire are irresistibly drained. There I stayed for some time at a private hotel in the Strand, leading a comfortless, meaningless existence, and spending such money as I had, considerably more freely than I ought.

Related Characters: John H. Watson (speaker)
Page Number: 8
Explanation and Analysis:
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Holmes is a little too scientific for my tastes — it approaches to cold-bloodedness. I could imagine his giving a friend a little pinch of the latest vegetable alkaloid, not out of malevolence, you understand, but simply out of a spirit of inquiry in order to have an accurate idea of the effects. To do him justice, I think that he would take it himself with the same readiness. He appears to have a passion for definite and exact knowledge….Yes, but it may be pushed to excess. When it comes to beating the subjects in the dissecting-rooms with a stick, it is certainly taking rather a bizarre shape.

Related Characters: Stamford (speaker), Sherlock Holmes, John H. Watson
Page Number: 10
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Let me see — what are my other shortcomings. I get in the dumps at times, and don’t open my mouth for days on end. You must not think I am sulky when I do that. Just let me alone, and I’ll soon be right. What have you to confess now? It’s just as well for two fellows to know the worst of one another before they begin to live together.

Related Characters: Sherlock Holmes (speaker), John H. Watson
Page Number: 13
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Part 1, Chapter 2 Quotes

Nothing could exceed his energy when the working fit was upon him; but now and again a reaction would seize him, and for days on end he would lie upon the sofa in the sitting-room, hardly uttering a word or moving… I have noticed such a dreamy, vacant expression in his eyes, that I might have suspected him of being addicted to the use of some narcotic, had not the temperance and cleanliness of his whole life forbidden such a notion.

Related Characters: John H. Watson (speaker), Sherlock Holmes
Page Number: 15
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I consider that a man’s brain originally is like a little empty attic, and you have to stock it with such furniture as you choose. A fool takes in all the lumber of every sort that he comes across, so that the knowledge which might be useful to him gets crowded out, or at best is jumbled up with a lot of other things, so that he has a difficulty in laying his hands upon it. Now the skilful workman is very careful indeed as to what he takes into his brain-attic. He will have nothing but the tools which may help him in doing his work, but of these he has a large assortment, and all in the most perfect order… It is of the highest importance, therefore, not to have useless facts elbowing out the useful ones.

Related Characters: Sherlock Holmes (speaker), John H. Watson
Page Number: 17
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Its somewhat ambitious title was “The Book of Life”, and it attempted to show how much an observant man might learn by an accurate and systematic examination of all that came in his way. It struck me as being a remarkable mixture of shrewdness and of absurdity. The reasoning was close and intense, but the deductions appeared to me to be far-fetched and exaggerated. The writer claimed by a momentary expression, a twitch of a muscle or a glance of an eye, to fathom a man’s inmost thoughts. Deceit, according to him, was an impossibility in the case of one trained to observation and analysis. His conclusions were as infallible as so many propositions of Euclid. So startling would his results appear to the uninitiated that until they learned the processes by which he had arrived at them they might well consider him as a necromancer.

Related Characters: John H. Watson (speaker), Sherlock Holmes
Page Number: 19
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“There are no crimes and criminals in these days,” he said, querulously. “What is the use of having brains in our profession? I know well that I have it in me to make my name famous. No man lives or has ever lived who has brought the same amount of study and of natural talent to the detection of crime which I have done. And what is the result? There is no crime to detect, or, at most, some bungling villainy with a motive so transparent that even a Scotland Yard official can see through it.”

Related Characters: Sherlock Holmes (speaker), John H. Watson
Page Number: 23
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Part 1, Chapter 3 Quotes

“Gregson is the smartest of the Scotland Yarders,” my friend remarked; “he and Lestrade are the pick of a bad lot. They are both quick and energetic, but conventional — shockingly so. They have their knives into one another, too. They are as jealous as a pair of professional beauties. There will be some fun over this case if they are both put upon the scent.”

Related Characters: Sherlock Holmes (speaker), John H. Watson, Lestrade, Tobias Gregson
Page Number: 26
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On his rigid face there stood an expression of horror, and, as it seemed to me, of hatred, such as I have never seen upon human features. This malignant and terrible contortion, combined with the low forehead, blunt nose, and prognathous jaw, gave the dead man a singularly simious and ape-like appearance, which was increased by his writhing, unnatural posture. I have seen death in many forms, but never has it appeared to me in a more fearsome aspect than in that dark, grimy apartment, which looked out upon one of the main arteries of suburban London.

Related Characters: John H. Watson (speaker), Enoch Drebber
Page Number: 30
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“They say that genius is an infinite capacity for taking pains,” he remarked with a smile. “It’s a very bad definition, but it does apply to detective work.”

Related Characters: Sherlock Holmes (speaker), John H. Watson, Lestrade, Tobias Gregson
Page Number: 34
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Part 1, Chapter 4 Quotes

“I’m not going to tell you much more of the case, Doctor. You know a conjurer gets no credit once he has explained his trick; and if I show you too much of my method of working, you will come to the conclusion that I am a very ordinary individual after all.”

“I shall never do that,” I answered; “you have brought detection as near an exact science as it ever will be brought in this world.”

My companion flushed up with pleasure at my words, and the earnest way in which I uttered them. I had already observed that he was as sensitive to flattery on the score of his art as any girl could be of her beauty.
“I’ll tell you one other thing,” he said.

Related Characters: Sherlock Holmes (speaker), John H. Watson (speaker)
Page Number: 38
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I shall have him, Doctor — I’ll lay you two to one that I have him. I must thank you for it all. I might not have gone but for you, and so have missed the finest study I ever came across: a study in scarlet, eh? Why shouldn’t we use a little art jargon? There’s the scarlet thread of murder running through the colourless skein of life, and our duty is to unravel it, and isolate it, and expose every inch of it.

Related Characters: Sherlock Holmes (speaker), John H. Watson
Page Number: 42
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Part 1, Chapter 6 Quotes

Oh, bless you, it doesn’t matter in the least. If the man is caught, it will be on account of their exertions; if he escapes, it will be in spite of their exertions. It’s heads I win and tails you lose. Whatever they do, they will have followers. “Un sot trouve toujours un plus sot qui l’admire.”

Related Characters: Sherlock Holmes (speaker), John H. Watson, Lestrade, Tobias Gregson
Page Number: 51
Explanation and Analysis:
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Part 2, Chapter 6 Quotes

“It don’t much matter to you why I hated these men,” he said; “it’s enough that they were guilty of the death of two human beings — a father and a daughter — and that they had, therefore, forfeited their own lives. After the lapse of time that has passed since their crime, it was impossible for me to secure a conviction against them in any court. I knew of their guilt though, and I determined that I should be judge, jury, and executioner all rolled into one. You’d have done the same, if you have any manhood in you, if you had been in my place.”

Page Number: 113
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Part 2, Chapter 7 Quotes

“…It is an open secret that the credit of this smart capture belongs entirely to the well-known Scotland Yard officials, Messrs Lestrade and Gregson. The man was apprehended, it appears, in the rooms of a certain Mr Sherlock Holmes, who has himself, as an amateur, shown some talent in the detective line, and who, with such instructors may hope in time to attain some degree of their skill. It is expected that a testimonial of some sort will be presented to the two officers as a fitting recognition of their services.”

“Didn’t I tell you so when we started?” cried Sherlock Holmes, with a laugh. “That’s the result of all our Study in Scarlet; to get them a testimonial!”

“Never mind,” I answered; “I have all the facts in my journal, and the public shall know them.”

Related Characters: Sherlock Holmes (speaker), John H. Watson (speaker), Jefferson Hope, Lestrade, Tobias Gregson
Page Number: 127
Explanation and Analysis:
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John H. Watson Character Timeline in A Study in Scarlet

The timeline below shows where the character John H. Watson appears in A Study in Scarlet. The colored dots and icons indicate which themes are associated with that appearance.
Part 1, Chapter 1: Mr Sherlock Holmes
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The narrator, John H. Watson, opens the novel by recounting his career as a young doctor. In 1878, after he... (full context)
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Watson was brought with other wounded soldiers to a hospital in Peshawar, Pakistan, where his health... (full context)
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On the same day that Watson resolves to change his lifestyle, he encounters an old colleague, Stamford, at the Criterion Bar.... (full context)
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Excited by this news, Watson tells Stamford he would be glad to have a roommate, as he would rather not... (full context)
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Arriving at the hospital’s chemistry laboratory, Watson and Stamford are approached by a jubilant Holmes, who declares to Stamford that he has... (full context)
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Delighted, Holmes tells Watson he has found a place on Baker Street, and they begin to discuss their shortcomings... (full context)
Part 1, Chapter 2: The Science of Deduction
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The next day, Holmes and Watson inspect the apartment at No. 221B, Baker Street, and are so pleased with the rooms... (full context)
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Watson’s curiosity about Holmes deepens the longer they live together. He describes Holmes’ appearance as striking,... (full context)
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Watson begins to spend his time trying to determine what Holmes does. He determines that his... (full context)
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...be unwilling to discuss his profession yet still curious about the nature of his work, Watson draws up a list of Holmes’ areas of knowledge, mastery, and ignorance. He determines that... (full context)
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In their first few weeks on Baker Street, Holmes and Watson have no visitors, leading Watson to conclude that Holmes was “as friendless a man as... (full context)
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One day, Watson gets up earlier than usual and sits down at the breakfast table with Holmes. On... (full context)
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...but occasionally goes out to observe evidence first-hand for more complex cases. To prove to Watson the utility and veracity of the science of deduction, Holmes explains how he knew that... (full context)
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Now that Holmes has explained his reasoning, Watson finds his claims “simple enough” and compares him to Edgar Allan Poe’s and Gaboriau’s literary... (full context)
Part 1, Chapter 3: The Lauriston Garden Mystery
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Watson is astonished that Holmes was right and asks how he deduced the man’s profession. Describing... (full context)
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...other (like “a pair of professional beauties”). Expecting Holmes to assist on the case immediately, Watson is surprised at Holmes’ reluctance. Though Gregson asks humbly for Holmes’ help, Holmes claims that... (full context)
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As Watson has nothing better to do, he accompanies Holmes to Brixton Road. On the hansom ride... (full context)
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...and hatred, and his limbs are positioned oddly, as if he had been struggling. Though Watson has “seen death in many forms…never has it appeared to [him] in a more fearsome... (full context)
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...room, sometimes kneeling and lying down on the floor, all the while talking to himself. Watson compares him to a “pure-blooded, well-trained foxhound.” (full context)
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...decides to speak to the constable, John Rance, who found Drebber’s body. Before he and Watson leave, however, Holmes gives the Scotland Yard detectives “one thing which may help”: the murderer... (full context)
Part 1, Chapter 4: What John Rance Had to Tell
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...their way to the home of the constable, John Rance. On the cab ride over, Watson is skeptical about Holmes’ confidence in the details he provided to the detectives. Holmes explains... (full context)
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Mystified by the case, Watson asks how the men ended up in the house, how the murderer could have forced... (full context)
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...he let the suspect, the apparently drunk man, walk free. On the cab ride back, Watson asks why the murderer would come back to the house. Holmes tells him that he... (full context)
Part 1, Chapter 5: Our Advertisement Brings a Visitor
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As their morning adventure had left him exhausted, Watson tries unsuccessfully to get some sleep but cannot stop thinking about the “distorted, baboon-like countenance... (full context)
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...a concert after questioning Rance, returns home late, his mood raised from the concert music. Watson, on the other hand, is still troubled by the case, which has left him with... (full context)
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...is Sawyer, claims that the ring belongs to her daughter Sally Dennis. Following Holmes’ signal, Watson gives the ring to the woman, who thanks him and leaves. Soon after, Holmes goes... (full context)
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Watson expresses his amazement that an old woman could have outwitted Holmes, who exclaims, “We were... (full context)
Part 1, Chapter 6: Tobias Gregson Shows What He Can Do
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The next day, reports of the “Brixton Mystery” fill the papers, which Watson and Holmes read together at breakfast. Watson summarizes to the reader the findings of a... (full context)
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Moments later, Watson hears a multitude of footsteps on their stairs, and Holmes informs him that it is... (full context)
Part 1, Chapter 7: Light in the Darkness
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Watson, Holmes, and Gregson are shocked at the news of Stangerson’s death. Holmes requests Lestrade’s account... (full context)
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...the pills, which the detective happened to collect at the crime scene. Holmes turns to Watson, asking if the light-colored and translucent pills are ordinary, to which Watson responds that they... (full context)
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...interrupted by Gregson, who demands to know the identity of the murderer. Though Lestrade and Watson also urge him to reveal his findings about the murderer, Holmes is reluctant, as he... (full context)
Part 2, Chapter 1: On the Great Alkali Plain
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No longer narrated by John Watson, Part 2 shifts to the American desert stretching from the Sierra Nevada to Nebraska, between... (full context)
Part 2, Chapter 6: A Continuation of the Reminiscences of John Watson, M.D.
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...He calmly lets himself into his own cab, and at Holmes’ suggestion, Gregson and Dr. Watson accompany him, with Lestrade driving the cab. At the Scotland Yard, Hope is allowed to... (full context)
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...matter. At that point, an inspector announces that Hope must be put in prison, and Watson and Holmes set off for Baker Street. (full context)
Part 2, Chapter 7: The Conclusion
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Hope, Gregson, Lestrade, Holmes, and Watson had all been told to appear before the magistrates on Thursday, but by that time,... (full context)
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Responding to Watson’s astonishment that Holmes found the case “simple,” Holmes explains his lines of reasoning about the... (full context)
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...by describing his solution as “a chain of logical sequences without a break or flaw.” Watson commends his roommate and decides to publish an account of the case so that the... (full context)