Cotton is thought to have studied at Leiden University, possibly under Herman Boerhaave. Cotton specialised in the care of patients with mental health issues, maintaining an asylum known as the Collegium Insanorum, at St Albans. William Cowper was one of his patients and held Cotton in high regard.
Cotton was also a published poet, whose poems were described by Cheever as "full of good sense, benevolence, and piety" although not works of genius. He was the author of Visions in Verse, first published in 1751; and a two volume complete collection of his works was published in 1791.
He was married twice, first in 1738 to Anne Pembroke, with whom he had eight children, six of whom survived past infancy and one, Joseph Cotton, who became a director of the Honourable East India Company. His second marriage in 1750 or 51 was to Hannah Everett, with whom he had a son and two daughters. He died at St Albans on 2 August 1788 and is buried in St. Peter's churchyard.
- Johnson, Samuel; The Works of the English Poets, from Chaucer to Cowper, volume XVIII, 1819, pp. 4–5
- Gay's Fables and Other Poems: Cotton's Visions in Verse; Moore's Fables for the Female Sex, 1826
- Campbell, Thomas; Specimens of the British Poets: With Biographical and Critical Notices volume VII, 1819, p. 131
- Cheever, George B; Studies in Poetry, 1830, p. 121
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