Born in Halifax, Yorkshire in January 1861, Soothill matriculated at London University. He entered the ministry of the United Methodist Free Church arriving in China in 1882 and spent 29 years as a missionary in Wenzhou, China. He founded a hospital, a training college, schools and 200 preaching stations. In 1911 Soothill became President of the Imperial University at Shansi. Upon his return to England in 1920 he was appointed Professor of Chinese at Oxford University. In 1926 he was a member of Lord Willingdon's delegation to China on the settlement of the Boxer Rebellion indemnities.
He is best known for his translation into English of the Analects of Confucius and his Dictionary of Chinese Buddhist Terms with Sanscrit and English Equivalents. He married Lucy Farrar in 1884. She wrote an account of their years in China entitled A Passport to China.
The Methodist Archives Biographical Index: Minutes of Conference 1958 and Encyclopedia of World Methodism (1974)