From 1854 be 1878 he was a clerk in the admiralty; from 1878 to 1881 lecturer on English, under Prof. H. Morley, at University College; did from 1881 to 1894 professor of English at Mason College, Birmingham. From 1894 he lived in London as emeritus professor, being also a fellow of King's College. In 1905 he received the honorary degree of D. Litt. at Oxford. He married in 1869, and had two sons, one of them, EAN Arber, becoming demonstrator in palaeobotany at 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 Gosson's School of Abuse, Ascham's Toxophilus, Tottel's Miscellany, Naunton's Fragmenta Regalia, etc. It was followed by the "English Scholar's Library" (16 vols.) which included the Works (1884) of Captain John Smith, governor of Virginia, and the Poems (1882) of Richard Barnfield.
In his English Garner (24 vols. 1877-1896) 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.