He was born in London in 1897 and educated at Cambridge. He became a fellow of Pembroke College in 1935. He was appointed King Edward VII Professor of English Literature in 1946. He served as President of Pembroke College from 1958 to 1964. He retired from his position as King Edward VII Professor of English Literature in 1965.
- Tendencies in Renaissance Literary Theory (1922)
- The Seventeenth Century Background : Studies in the Thought of the Age in Relation to Poetry and Religion (1934)
- The Eighteenth Century Background : Studies on the Idea of Nature in the Thought of the Period (1940)
- Nineteenth Century Studies : Coleridge to Matthew Arnold (1949)
- Christianity Past and Present (1952)
- More nineteenth century studies: A group of honest doubters (1956)
- The Religion of Nature (1957)
- Darwin and Butler: Two Versions of Evolution: The Hibbert Lectures of 1959 (1960)
- The English Moralists" (1964)
- Cambridge and other Memories, 1920-1953 (1968 - Published by Chatto and Wndus London)
- Religion to-day (1969)
- Samuel Taylor Coleridge (1973)
- The English Mind: Studies in the English Moralists – Presented to Basil Willey by Hugh Sykes Davies and George Watson (1964)
- Spots of Time: A Retrospect of the Years 1897-1920 (First volume of autobiography) 
- Additional detail added from a copy of Cambridge and other Memories published by Chatto and Windus in 1968.
- detail taken from Cambridge and other Memories by Chatto and Windus London 1968.
- Contemporary Authors Online, Gale, 2007. Reproduced in Biography Resource Center. Farmington Hills, Mich.: Thomson Gale. 2007.