Arber was born in London. From 1854 be 1878 he worked as a clerk in the Admiralty, and began evening classes at King's College London in 1858. From 1878 to 1881 he lectured in English, under Prof. H. Morley, at University College London; and from 1881 to 1894 he was professor of English at Mason College (which later became Birmingham University). From 1894 he lived in London as emeritus professor, being also a fellow of King's College London. In 1905 he received the honorary degree of D. Litt. from the University of Oxford. He married in 1869, and had two sons, one of whom, E. A. N. Arber, became demonstrator in paleobotany at the University of Cambridge.
As a scholarly editor, Professor Arber's services to English literature are memorable. His name is associated particularly with the series of "English Reprints" (1868–1880), by which an accurate text of the works of many English authors, formerly only accessible in more expensive editions, was placed within reach of the general public. Among the thirty volumes of the series were Stephen Gosson's School of Abuse, Roger Ascham's Toxophilus, Tottel's Miscellany, and Robert Naunton's Fragmenta Regalia. It was followed by the "English Scholar's Library" (16 volumes) which included the Works (1884) of Captain John Smith, governor of Virginia, and the Poems (1882) of Richard Barnfield.
In his English Garner (8 vols. 1877-1890) he made an admirable collection of rare old tracts and poems; in 1899-1901 he issued British Anthologies, and in 1907 began a series called A Christian Library. to also accomplished single-handed the editing of two vast, and of valuable, English bibliographies: A Transcript of the Registers of the Stationers' Company, 1553-1640 (1875–1894), and The Term Catalogues, 1668-1709/11.
- Who's Who 1914
- The Term Catalogues, 1668-1709, With a Number for Easter Term, 1711 A.D. A Contemporary Bibliography of English Literature in the Reigns of Charles II, James II, William and Mary, and Anne. Ed. by Edward Arber, vols. 1-3. London: Edward Arber, 1903/ 1905/ 1906.
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- Works by Edward Arber at Project Gutenberg
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- The Term Catalogues, 1668-1709, With a Number for Easter Term, 1711 A.D. A Contemporary Bibliography of English Literature in the Reigns of Charles II, James II, William and Mary, and Anne. Ed. by Edward Arber, vols. 1-3. London: 1903/ 1905/ 1906. Scan of volume 1, 1668-1682.
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