From King Edward's School, Birmingham, he went to Balliol College, Oxford, where he graduated in 1872, and at once devoted himself to a literary career, as journalist, essayist and lecturer. His first book was a study of Sir Joshua Reynolds (1874), and later he edited various classical English writers, and published volumes on Bolingbroke and Voltaire in England (1886), The Study of English Literature: a plea for its recognition and organization at the Universities (1891), a study of Dean Swift (1893), Essays and Studies (1895), Ephemera Critica (1901), Essays in Poetry and Criticism (1905), and Rousseau and Voltaire (1908), his original essays being sharply controversial in tone, but full of knowledge.
In 1904 he became professor of English literature at Birmingham University. For many years he was a prominent University Extension lecturer, and a constant contributor to the principal reviews. On 25 September 1908 he was found dead in a ditch near Lowestoft, Suffolk, at which place he had been staying with a doctor for the benefit of his health. The circumstances necessitated the holding of an inquest, the verdict being that of accidental death.