He was born in Great Charles Street, Birmingham, educated at Grove School, Tottenham, and became a chemical manufacturer. Originally a Quaker, he joined the Church of England. His first book, John Inglesant, appeared in 1881, and at once made him famous. Though deficient in its structure as a story, and not appealing to the populace, it fascinates by the charm of its style and the "dim religious light" by which it is suffused, as well as by the striking scenes occasionally depicted. Shorthouse dedicated John Inglesant to Rawdon Levett, his friend and fellow teacher at King Edward's School, Birmingham. His other novels, The Little Schoolmaster Mark, Sir Percival, The Countess Eve, and A Teacher of the Violin, though with some of the same characteristics, had no success comparable to his first. Shorthouse also wrote an essay, The Platonism of Wordsworth.