James Hislop, a minor poet, the son of persons in humble life, parish of Kirkconnell, Dumfries-shire, was born in 1798. When a boy he was sent to herd sheep and cattle at the farm of Dalblair, in a neighboring parish. He next became a shepherd boy at the farm of Boghead, parish of Auchinleck, Ayrshire, and some years afterwards removed to Corsebank, and subsequently to Carcoe, near Sanquhar. He now obtained private instructions in grammar and Latin, to which he added French and mathematics. After trying an evening school, he removed, towards the end of 1819, to Greenock, and opened a school in that town. But not succeeding, he returned to Carcoe, where he devoted himself to the study of French and Italian literature. His Cameronian Dream first appeared in the Edinburgh Magazine for February 1821. Several others of his poems were published in the same periodical. He was now induced to open a school in Edinburgh, but soon after was appointed schoolmaster in the Dorris frigate. Three years after, he visited his relations at Carcoe, where he resumed his contributions to the Edinburgh Magazine, in a series of Letters from South America. In 1825 he proceeded to London, and was engaged, for a short period as a reporter for one of the London newspapers.
In 1826 he was appointed head master of an academy in the neighborhood of London, and in the following year he joined, as schoolmaster, the Tweed man-of-war, ordered to the Mediterranean, and afterwards to the Cape of Good Hope. Among the numerous poems which he composed at sea at this time, that entitled The Scottish Sacramental Sabbath, after the manner of Burns' Cotter's Saturday Night, is perhaps the best. While the Tweed was cruising off the Cape de Verd islands, with one of the officers, the whole of the midshipmen, and the surgeon of the ship, he went to visit the island of St. Jago. With the exception of the officer, who swam back to the ship, they all slept on shore in the open air, and were, in consequence, all seized with fever, which, in the case of six of them, including the surgeon and four midshipmen, proved fatal. After lingering for twelve days, Hislop died 4th December 1827, in his 29th year.