James Hislop was born of humble parents in the parish of Kirkconnel, in the neighbourhood of Sanquhar, near the source of the Nith, in July 1798. He was employed as a shepherd-boy in the vicinity of Airsmoss, where, at the gravestone of a party of slain covenanters, he composed the following striking poem [The Cameronian's Dream]. He afterwards became a teacher, and his poetical effusions having attracted the favourable notice of Lord Jeffrey, and other eminent literary characters, he was, through their influence, appointed schoolmaster, first on board the Doris, and subsequently the Tweed man-of-war. He died on the 4th December 1827 from fever caught by sleeping one night in the open air upon the island of St. Jago. His compositions display an elegant rather than a vigorous imagination, much chasteness of thought, and a pure but ardent love of nature.
In a dream of the night I was wafted away,
To the muirland of mist where the martyrs lay;
Where Cameron's sword and his Bible are seen,
Engraved on the stone where the heather grows green.
'Twas a dream of those ages of darkness and blood,
When the minister's home was the mountain and wood;
When in Wellwood's dark valley the standard of Zion,
All bloody and torn 'mong the heather was lying.
'Twas morning; and summer's young sun from the east
Lay in loving repose on the green mountain's breast
On Wardlaw and Cairntable the clear shining dew,
Glistened there 'mong the heath bells and mountain flowers blue.
And far up in heaven near the white sunny cloud,
The song of the lark was melodious and loud,
And in Glenmuir's wild solitude, lengthened and deep,
Were the whistling of plovers and bleating of sheep.
And Wellwood's sweet valleys breathed music and gladness,
The fresh meadow blooms hung in beauty and redness;
Its daughters were happy to hail the returning,
And drink the delights of July's sweet morning.
But, oh! there were hearts cherished far other feelings,
Illumed by the light of prophetic revealings,
Who drank from the scenery of beauty but sorrow,
For they knew that their blood would bedew it tomorrow.
'Twas the few faithful ones who with Cameron were lying,
Concealed 'mong the mist where the heathfowl was crying,
For the horsemen of Earlshall around them were hovering,
And their bridle reins rung through the thin misty covering.
Their faces grew pale, and their swords were unsheathed,
But the vengeance that darkened their brow was unbreathed;
With eyes turned to heaven in calm resignation,
They sung their last song to the God of Salvation.
The hills with the deep mournful music were ringing,
The curlew and plover in concert were singing;
But the melody died 'mid derision and laughter,
As the host of ungodly rushed on to the slaughter.
Though in mist and in darkness and fire they were shrouded,
Yet the souls of the righteous were calm and unclouded,
Their dark eyes flashed lightning, as, firm and unbending,
They stood like the rock which the thunder is rending.
The muskets were flashing, the blue swords were gleaming,
The helmets were cleft, and the red blood was streaming,
The heavens grew dark, and the thunder was rolling,
When in Wellwood's dark muirlands the mighty were falling.
When the righteous had fallen, and the combat was ended,
A chariot of fire through the dark cloud descended;
Its drivers were angels on horses of whiteness,
And its burning wheels turned on axles of brightness.
A seraph unfolded its doors bright and shining,
All dazzling like gold of the seventh refining,
And the souls that came forth out of great tribulation,
Have mounted the chariots and steeds of salvation.
On the arch of the rainbow the chariot is gliding,
Through the path of the thunder the horsemen are riding;
Glide swiftly, bright spirits! the prize is before ye,
A crown never fading, a kingdom of glory!