Edwin Abbott Abbott was the eldest son of Edwin Abbott (1808–1882), headmaster of the Philological School, Marylebone, and his wife, Jane Abbott (1806–1882). His parents were first cousins.
He was educated at the City of London School and at St John's College, Cambridge, where he took the highest honours in classics, mathematics and theology, and became a fellow of his college. In particular, he was 1st Smith's prizeman in 1861. [This seems to be an error by Venn: Colby's preface to Abbott's Flatland states that Abbott was 7th Senior Optime, Senior Classic and 1st Chancellor's Medallist in 1861; William Steadman Aldis was 1st Smith's Prizeman in 1861.] In 1862 he took orders. After holding masterships at King Edward's School, Birmingham, he succeeded G. F. Mortimer as headmaster of the City of London School in 1865 at the early age of twenty-six. Here he oversaw the education of future Prime Minister H. H. Asquith. He was Hulsean lecturer in 1876.