A Study in Scarlet

A Study in Scarlet Summary and Analysis of Part I, Chapter VI: Tobias Gregson Shows What He Can Do


The next morning Watson narrated how many of the local papers put forth theories about the "Brixton Mystery," as they deemed it. Many believed the crime was political in nature, perhaps with roots in the Liberal Administration or the Socialists. Holmes scoffed that Lestrade and Gregson were not very effective detectives.

A few moments later, a loud pattering of footsteps was heard in the hall and several young, ragtag boys burst into the room. Holmes identified them as "the Baker Street division of the detective police force.” He asked one of them, Wiggins, if they had found "it" and Wiggins answered in the negative. Holmes paid them and they left; upon their absence Holmes remarked that they worked harder than the actual police force and could find out more because no one suspected their espionage abilities.

Gregson was espied outside, bearing "beatitude written upon every feature of his face." He approached the apartments and was let inside. When he stood before Holmes and Watson he proclaimed that he had made the whole mystery clear. For a moment Holmes looked disappointed, but when Gregson announced that the murderer was one Arthur Charpentier, Holmes looked relieved and smug once more.

Gregson was invited to sit down and commenced his tale of how he had solved the crime. He first laughed that Lestrade was off after the wrong man, the secretary Joseph Stangerson, and then began. He explained that he had looked at the hat of the dead man, which had a label of John Underwood and Sons, 129 Cumberland Road. Holmes nodded that he had noticed this, which slightly annoyed Gregson, but the detective continued. He went to Underwood and asked after the hat, learning that it was delivered to a Mr. Drebber at Charpentier's Boarding Establishment at Torquay Terrace.

Gregson followed this lead to the boarding house, where he spoke with Madame Charpentier and her daughter Alice. Alice looked as if she wanted to speak further on the issue, but Madame Charpentier was quite close-lipped. Finally, the daughter said there was no point in falsehoods, and the mother decided to tell Gregson the truth, even if it would indict her son Arthur in this murder. She claimed he was utterly innocent but the facts would make it look as if he was guilty.

Madame Charpentier told Gregson that Drebber had been with them for three weeks. Drebber and Stangerson were traveling about the Continent and boarded with her. While Stangerson was quiet and polite, Drebber was vulgar and rude, acting licentiously towards the servant girls and even Alice. He was not kicked out because Charpentier needed money and the men were paying handsomely.

One night when he had been too forward with Alice, Madame Charpentier kicked him out. However, Drebber returned later that night, clearly drunk. He tried to convince Alice to run away with him, but she was shocked and disgusted. Suddenly, Madame Charpentier's son Arthur came in. Armed with a club, he fought with Drebber. The latter left and Arthur assured his mother that Drebber would bother them no more but that he would go out and follow him to see what he did with himself.

Gregson told Holmes and Watson that he continued to question Madame Charpentier; she did not know when her son had returned since she was already in bed. He then left the boarding house, and with the assistance of other officers, arrested Arthur. The young man knew that he was being arrested for the murder of Drebber but protested he was not the murderer. Gregson surmised that perhaps Arthur had given Drebber a strong blow to the stomach which did not leave a mark.

It seemed to Gregson that Arthur was guilty, as he admitted taking a cab after Drebber. He claimed he had left him and then taken a walk with a fellow shipmate but could not say where that shipmate lived. Gregson's story came to a conclusion, and about the same time Lestrade showed up at the door.

When Lestrade entered the room his dress and his expression revealed intense perturbation. He seemed embarrassed at seeing Gregson, as if he had come to consult only with Holmes. Gregson arrogantly asked whether or not he had managed to find the secretary Stangerson, and Lestrade stated gravely, "The secretary Joseph Stangerson...was murdered at Halliday's Private Hotel about six o'clock this morning."


Arthur Conan Doyle often alluded to the political climate of his time in the Holmes stories. Here certain political realities and tensions are present in the newspapers’ accounting for the mysteriousness of the case. The Daily Telegraph was a paper founded in 1855 that was noteworthy as a news paper, and one that endeavored to keep their reputation as such. Doyle is satirizing The Telegraph columns of George Augustus Sala, a writer with a very florid style. The focus on the Socialists is not surprising, as they garnered much disapprobation at the time for their putatively radical ideas.

The Standard was launched in 1827 and became a morning paper thirty years later. By the mid-1880s it was selling over half a million copies. Politically, it was Conservative but did not allow its party preferences to dictate its contents. The Liberal administration referenced is William Gladstone's Third Administration (Feb.-Aug. 1886), which followed his Second Administration (Apr. 1880- June 1885). Doyle supported the latter but not the former. The Daily News was formed in 1845 by Charles Dickens and was avowedly Liberal. Doyle's use of real publications and current events was one reason why his works were so popular with his own generation.

One of the more charming elements of the tale is Holmes’ use of little street Arabs in his employ to run about the city and find out specific pieces of information in return for pay. He initially refers to them as "the Baker Street division of the detective police force" (50), but this was changed in later works in order not to confuse readers into thinking that they were junior recruits of the actual police force. Doyle himself was a member of a childhood gang; in his Memories and Adventures, he wrote "We lived for some time in a cul-de-sac street with a very vivid life of its own and a fierce feud between the small boys who dwelt on either side of it...the poor boys who lived in the flats...and the richer boys who lived in the opposite villas."

Gregson has his moment in this chapter; he is certain that he has discovered the identity of the murderer in Arthur Charpentier, the young man who was defending the innocence of his sister who helped run the boardinghouse where Drebber was staying. Doyle scholar Owen Dudley Edwards has identified the protection of sisters as a theme in multiple stories, and the usage of Doyle's own first name –Arthur –for a few figures of wrongly-accused children. Gregson's moment, however, is short-lived. The reader can tell that Holmes is not convinced of Gregson's conclusions. Gregson is also interrupted dramatically when Lestrade bursts into the room announcing the death of Joseph Stangerson, Drebber's secretary.

A final bit of information –Holmes’ oft-quoted aphorism of "To a great mind, nothing is little" (52) is no doubt derived from Samuel Johnson's words to Giuseppi Baretti in 1762. Quoted by Boswell in Johnson, Johnson wrote, "Nothing is little to him that feels it with great sensibility." It is clear that Doyle was well-versed in the writings and works of famous English men of letters before him, and that this knowledge seeped into the words, thoughts, and actions of his characters.