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EDITORIAL NOTE


My great great grandfather, the now largely forgotten, though in his time prolific author, Vane Ireton Shaftesbury St John, died on 20th December 1911 in Camberwell, south London. He had been bedridden for the last eight years of his life suffering from a paralysis of the lower limbs; an affliction exacerbated, no doubt, by his having fathered more than 27 children both in and out of wedlock between the 1850s and 1890s....

St John's work was published mainly in the penny dreadful market of the mid to late 19th Century and, along with hundreds of stories of which his authorship is not in question, serials which appeared in Parlour Journal, Reynolds’s Miscellany, The London Reader, The Young Englishman, Sons of Brittania, Boys of England, Boys World, Twice a Week and their like, he has also been attributed at least part-authorship of some of the most famous of all penny dreadfuls, 'The Wild Boys of London; or, the Children of the Night' (1864-66) and 'The Boy Detective; or, the Crimes of London' (1865-66). He also published at least three popular, sensationalist novels in his early career, 'St. Eustace; or, The Hundred-and-One' (1857), 'Undercurrents' (1860) and 'The Chain of Destiny' (1862).

It had long been thought that St John's writing career came to an end in the late 1890s, when he entered a retirement enforced on him by the illness that would eventually see him bedridden. However, in July 2008, after some years of genealogical research in which I believed I had found out all I could about my great great grandfather, there came into my possession (at the behest of a distant St John cousin who, for reasons of privacy, has asked to remain anonymous) certain papers belonging to the old man. These included several small notebooks that purport to be his private journals, kept in the last decade of his life. The journals, the contents of which are taken up on the whole with the unpublishable ramblings and minute obsessions of a sick and ailing man, also prove that St John had not entirely given up the pen. Interspersed with the mundane lists of monies he thought himself owed and rants against the perceived slights on his person by family members and acquaintances, are a number of notes and in places, entire chapters, in his inimitable sensationalist style.

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