As a child Joseph Henry Shorthouse, born into a Quaker family, developed a stammer that embarrassed him all his life. Because of that speech impediment he was, except for a brief stay at Tottenham College at the age of fifteen, educated by tutors at home. At the age of sixteen he entered his father’s business, a manufacturing concern in Birmingham, where he proved quite successful. Although born a Quaker, he apparently had less sympathy for his parents’ religion than for others. Throughout his life he evidenced an interest in spiritualism, and after his marriage to Sarah Scott in 1857 he became a convert to the Church of England.
An attack of epilepsy in 1862, while Shorthouse was still in his twenties, forced him to turn to literary study and writing, which afforded him the quiet, restful existence he needed. For ten years, from 1866 to 1876, Shorthouse worked on the novel John Inglesant. It lay in manuscript for three years before Shorthouse had it privately printed in 1880 for distribution to friends. At the suggestion of the writer Mrs. Humphry Ward, the work was published for the trade in 1881 and became very popular. Shorthouse went on to write other novels, though none was as successful as the first. He also wrote an essay, On the Platonism of Wordsworth, and a volume of stories, A Teacher of the Violin, and Other Tales. Shorthouse’s John Inglesant aroused surprise at the time it first appeared, and it has remained an amazing work because of its vivid descriptions of Italy, a land the author did not know at first hand, and the quality of mysticism not ordinarily associated with writings by men of business.