Born May 24, 1893, in Northampton, England, Davis was educated at Northampton Grammar School and St. John's College, Oxford, where he took a B.A. in 1914. He then served as a gunner, Royal Garrison Artillery, 2nd lieutenant, 1917, in the 301st Siege Battery, and as lieutenant and acting adjutant, 4th Brigade, Royal Garrison Artillery with the Army of Occupation in 1919. He took an M.A. from Wells Theological College that year, became a lecturer in the University of Leeds in 1920, and came to Toronto in 1922 as Associate Professor of English in University College, University of Toronto. After a stint as guest professor at the University of Cologne in 1924-25, he returned to University College. In April 1930 he married his second wife, Gladys Wookey, who was a lecturer at University College from 1921 to 1931. Also in 1930 Davis founded, evidently in memory of his first wife, the Gertrude Davis exchange fellowship in the University of Toronto, to enable a graduate of University College to study for one year in Germany and a German student to study for one year at the University of Toronto. Davis continued as Professor of English there from 1935 to 1937. His promotion came as a result of his publication of Jonathan Swift's The Drapier's letters to the people of Ireland against receiving Wood's halfpence at Clarendon Press in 1935. He moved to the University of Chicago in 1937-38 and then, on the eve of bringing out the first volume of Swift's prose works at Shakespeare Head Press (1939-1964), to Cornell University in Ithaca as Chair from 1938 to 1940. He went on to become President of Smith College from 1940 to 1951. In 1941 he gave the Alexander Lectures at University College. A great scholar of 18th-century British literature, Davis finally returned to Britain as Reader in Bibliography and Textual Criticism at Oxford. He had one Elisabeth Ann Davis. He was an Anglican and died in 1976.