Arbuckle's birthplace was possibly Belfast, but he was the son of a Presbyterian minister in Dublin. He was educated at Glasgow University, where his studies were disrupted by his struggles against Calvinist authorities (concerning the right of students to cast votes for the university's rectorship). He espoused the philosophy of Anthony Ashley-Cooper, 3rd Earl of Shaftesbury.
His first published work was Snuff (1717), a mock-epic, which won praise from Allan Ramsay. It was followed by Glotta; or, The Clyde (1721), a tribute to Scottish life and scenery in which the most ordinary topics (such as golf and swimming) are depicted in high-flown language.
In 1723 he returned to Dublin, where, under the patronage of Robert Molesworth, 1st Viscount Molesworth, he edited the Weekly Journal, The Tribune and Hibernicus's Letters (a journal of essays later republished in two volumes, 1729).
In 1735 he published a scathing satirical attack on Jonathan Swift, whom he had once befriended, entitled Momus Mistaken with which he inadvertently dented his own reputation. He intended to publish translations of classical works but nothing came of these plans.
He became a schoolmaster in northern Ireland and his later life is obscure.
His death has been given various dates between 1734 and 1747.
Some of his classical translations and other manuscript poetry are now in the National Library of Wales.
- Snuff: A poem. Edinburgh: James M'euen, 1719.
- Glotta: A poem. Glasgow: William Duncan, 1721.
- A Poem Inscribed to the Dublin Society. Dublin: R. Reilly, for George Ewing, 1737.
- Momus Mistaken: A fable, occasioned by the publication of the works of the Revd. Dr. Swift. 1735.
- An Epistle to the Right Honourable Thomas Earl of Hadington: On the death of Joseph Addison, Esq. London: T. Cox, 1719.
- A Collection of Letters and Essays on Several Subjects. London: J. Darby & T. Browne, or J. Osborn and T. Longman, and J. Gray, et al, 1729.
- A panegyric on the Reverend D--n S----t. Dublin: 1730.
- Hibernicus's letters; or, A philosophical miscellany. (2 volumes), London: J. Clark, T. Hatchet, E. Symon, J. Gray, C. Rivington, et al, 1734.
- Selected Works (edited by Richard Holmes). Lanham, MD: Bucknell University Press / Plymouth, England: Rowman & Littlefield, 2014.
- John F. Woznak. "James Arbuckle and the Dublin Weekly Journal." Journal of Irish Literature, v.22 (May 1993) pp46–52
- A.T.Q. Stewart. A Deeper Silence: The Hidden Origins of the United Irishmen. Blackstaff Press, 1998.
- James Arbuckle (?1700-1742) at Ricorso
- This article incorporates text from a publication now in the public domain, the Dictionary of National Biography (edited by Leslie Stephen). London: Smith, Elder, 1885-1900. Original article is at: Arbuckle, James (1700-1734?)