Upward was brought up as a member of the Plymouth Brethren and trained as a lawyer at the Royal University of Dublin (now University College Dublin). While living in Dublin, he wrote a pamphlet in favour of Irish Home Rule.
He wrote two books of poetry, Songs of Ziklag (1888) and Scented Leaves from a Chinese Jar. He also published a translation Sayings of Confucious and a volume of autobiography, Some Personalities (1921).
Upward wrote a number of now-forgotten novels: The Prince of Balkistan (1895), A Crown of Straw (1896), A Bride's Madness (1897), and The Accused Princess (1900) (source: Duncan, p. xii).
His 1913 book The Divine Mystery is an anthropological study of Christian mythology.
In 1908, Upward self-published a book (originally written in 1901) which he apparently thought would be Nobel Prize material: The New Word. This book is today known as the first citation of the word "Scientology", although it is used in the book in a disparaging way to describe "science elevated to unquestioning doctrine". It is unknown whether L. Ron Hubbard, the founder of the Scientology-organization, knew of this book.
In 1917 the British Museum refused to take Upwards' manuscripts, "on the grounds that the writer was still alive," and Upward burned them (source: Duncan, p. xi).