Dictionary of National Biography, 1912 supplement/Shorthouse, Joseph Henry
SHORTHOUSE, JOSEPH HENRY (1834–1903), author of 'John Inglesant,' eldest son of Joseph Shorthouse (d. Oct. 1880) and his wiie Mary Ann, daughter of John Hawker, was born on 9 Sept. 1834 in Great Charles Street, Birmingham, where his father inherited some chemical works from his great-grandfather. Both parents belonged to the Society of Friends. At ten Shorthouse went to a quakers' school near his new home in Edgbaston, and at fifteen to Tottenham College, his studies being interrupted by a bad nervous stammer — a defect which developed powers of mental concentration. At sixteen he went into the family business, but he remained an intensive reader, being attracted by Hawthorne and Michelet and repelled by Macaulay. He was trained in writing by a Friends' Essay Society, to which he contributed papers much debated and commended by his associates. Through this meeting he came to know Sarah, eldest daughter of John and Elizabeth Scott of Edgbaston, to whom he was married at the Meeting house, Warwick, before he was three-and-twenty (19 Aug. 1857). Powerfully affected by Ruskin and Pre-Raphaelitism, Shorthouse discovered a strong sentimental sympathy for the Anglicanism of the seventeenth century as he conceived it; in Aug. 1861 he and his wife were baptised at St. John's, Ladywood, by his friend Canon Morse, to whom he afterwards dedicated 'Sir Percival' (1886). In 1862 he had an attack of epilepsy which made him more or less of an invalid. From 1862 to 1876 he lived in Beaufort Road, within a stone's throw of Newman at the Oratory; there he started a Greek Testament Society in 1873.
There too a psychological and historical romance, 'John Inglesant,' grew in its author's mind by a process of incrustation and was slowly committed to writing, beginning about 1866. Every free evening he was in the habit of reading a paragraph or two to his wife and to no one else. In 1876 the book was finished at Llandudno; but the publishers were shy of it, and great expense being involved in moving at this period from Beaufort Road to a beautiful house in spacious grounds, known as Lansdowne, Edgbaston. the manuscript remained undisturbed for five years in the drawer of a cabinet. Early in 1880 a notion of private issue was resumed; it was printed handsomely in a thick octavo of 577 pages with a vellum binding, and dedicated to Rawdon Levett, 17 June 1880. Private readers of this edition, commencing with the author's father, were greatly impressed; but James Payn [q. v. Suppl. I], reader of Messrs. Smith, Elder & Co., who read it with a view to its publication by his firm, gave an unfavourable verdict (cf. Payn's Literary Recollections). The 'Guardian' however took a more complacent view. Mrs. Humphry Ward was struck by the book, a copy of which with the author's consent she forwarded to Alexander Macmillan; and on 18 Feb. 1881 MacmiUan wrote to Shorthouse to say that he would feel it an honour to publish the book. That a man whose paths had not lain among scholars and libraries and who had never travelled two hundred miles from his home should have written such a book as 'Inglesant,' with its marvellous atmospheric delineation of Italy, struck the world of English letters with amazement. That a mystic should arise from the ranks of the Birmingham manufacturers stimulated their curiosity. Though called a romance, wrote Macmillan, '"John Inglesant" is full of thought and power.' It attracted the interest of a remarkable variety of people — Gladstone, Huxley, Miss Yonge, and Cardinal Manning, and the writer was much lionised in London. He and his wife spent a week with his publisher at Tooting, where Huxley and others met him. At a reception at Gladstone's, where the Prince of Wales and many persons of distinction were assembled, Shorthouse was a centre of attraction. Nearly nine thousand copies were sold in the year. The success was partly due to fashion, for 'Inglesant,' which lacked the qualities of good continuous narrative, greatly over-accentuated the value of the Romanising movement of the time, was full of vague sermonising, and was destitute of humour. Some of the episodes (the Little Gidding ones prominently) exhibit beauty and pathos, which the author's fidelity to his period enabled him to clothe in an idiom of singular purity and charm, and the book fitted in admirably with a wave of catholic and historical feeling which was passing over the country. Few new books have had a more ardent cult than 'John Inglesant,'
Shorthouse rapidly extended his acquaintance, his new friends including Canon Ainger, Professor Knight, Mr. Gosse, and Bishop Talbot. Although he w-as incited to new effort he was essentially homo unius libri. His prefaces to Herbert's 'Temple' (1882) and the 'Golden Thoughts' of Molinos (1883), his essays on 'The Platonism of Wordsworth' (1882) and 'The Royal Supremacy' (1899), and his minor novels, chief among them 'Sir Percival' (1886), corroborate the idea of a choice but limited talent. The reviewers, who criticised them with blunted weapons, were unimpressed by Shorthouse's long and self-complacent Platonic disquisitions.
In life, as in scholarship, Shorthouse was an eclectic and a conservative. The constant foe of excess, eccentricity, over-emphasis, self-advertisement, he stood notably for cultured Anglicanism. His health began to fail in 1900, and muscular rheumatism compelled his abandonment of business; reading and devotion were his solace to the end. He died at his residence, Lansdowne, Edgbaston, on 4 March 1903, and was buried in Old Edgbaston churchyard. There also was buried his widow, who died on 9 May 1909. He left no issue. His library was sold at Sotheby's on 20 Dec. 1909.
In addition to the novels already mentioned, Shorthouse published: 1. ‘The Little Schoolmaster Mark,’ 1883. 2. ‘The Countess Eve,’ 1888. 3. ‘A Teacher of the Violin, and other Tales,’ 1888. 4. ‘Blanche Lady Falaise,’ 1891.
[Life and Letters of J. H. Shorthouse, edited by his wife, 2 vols. 1905 (portraits); Life and Letters of Alexander Macmillan, 1910; Miss Sichel's Life of Ainger, chap. xi.; The Times, 6 and 11 March 1903; Guardian, 25 March 1903; Spectator, 14 March 1903; Observer, 7 May 1905; Dublin Review, xc. 395; Blackwood, cxxxi. 365; Temple Bar, June 1903; Gosse's Portraits and Sketches, 1912. For the verdicts of Acton and Gardiner (Fraser, cv. 599) upon Shorthouse's historical point of view and his endeavours to reply, see Acton's Letters to Mary Gladstone.]