Massey was the son of a canal boatman and born near Tring. He worked in the local silk and straw plait industries as a child, but travelled to London aged 15 at the urge of the novelist Charles Kingsley, to pursue literature. At the age of 20 he had succeeded in publishing some poems in Tring, but it was six years before his work titled ‘Babe Christabel’ received public attention in 1854.
He later wrote on theological subject matters and gave lectures on Spiritualism in America. He lived in Little Gaddesden after his marriage.