1807 ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

Dr. Nathaniel Cotton

B., Memoir of Nathaniel Cotton in Gentleman's Magazine 77 (June 1807) 500-01.



June 10.

Mr. Urban,

In compliance with the earnest request of your correspondent Biographicus, p. 398, I send you the following short memoir of the late Nathaniel Cotton, M.D. and his family: premising at the same time, that I have very little information to give, and am perfectly willing that it should give place to any fuller account, which the Doctor's better-informed acquaintance or relations may communicate to you. Of his ancestry I am perfectly ignorant, it having often been observed by several of his neighbours and acquaintance as a remarkable circumstance, that he was truly [Greek characters], that nobody ever heard any thing of his parentage, relations, or descent. He studied Physic, under the renowned Dr. Boerhaave at Leyden, at which University, then unquestionably the first school of Physic in Europe, he is understood to have taken his degree. All that I ever heard of his outset in life was, that there was formerly at Dunstaple in Bedfordshire a house for the reception of lunatics, kept by a Dr. Crawly, at whose death the establishment broke up: but Dr. Cotton engaged Dr. Crawly's house-keeper, and a few of his remaining patients, to remove with him to St. Alban's, where he opened a house of a similar kind on a small scale, in which he continued for some years; till at length, finding his circumstances improve, and probably his patients being increased, he hired a larger house, which had previously been inhabited by some of the most respectable families in the town, but had for some time been occupied as a boarding-school. To this house he removed his patients, and dignified it with the name of "The College," Collegium insanorum (a joke surely upon colleges): and of the college, thus uninhabited, he continued the oversight till his death, when he was succeeded in it by the present occupier Stephen Pellet, M.D. He resided with his family in a private house in St. Peter's-street, in the town of St. Alban's: this house still retains a mark which he set upon it, being almost, if not absolutely, the only house in the town that has a conductor to defend it against the effects of lightening. Here he passed his life, visiting his patients, and writing poetry and prose, and leaving little to be recorded concerning himself; but that little implied a great deal; namely, that he was just such a man as his works speak him to be, pious, mild, good-tempered, against whom the breath of Slander never ventured a whisper, but whose company was much courted and highly relished by all his acquaintance, being most amiable and engaging in his manners, and bearing the character of a skilful and experienced Physician. He is not known to have published any thing in the way of his profession, except Observations on a particular kind of Scarlet Fever that lately prevailed in and about St. Alban's, 1749. His Visions in verse, for the entertainment and instruction of younger minds, have been put into the hands of almost all your readers, Mr. Urban, in their youth, and committed to the memories of some: and the insertion of a few of his smaller pieces, particularly the Fire-side, in Dodsley's Collection, contributed to establish and extend his fame as a pleasing and amiable writer of poetry. Three years after his death his eldest son published in two small neat volumes, inscribed to the Countess Dowager Spencer, all the poetical pieces that had previously been given to the publick, with various others both in prose and verse, all innocent and pleasing, but some few, perhaps, rather trifling. The first article in the second volume, Mirza to Selim (as I am informed by a venerable inhabitant still remaining, who is one of the few that remember the subject of it), relates the death of the Doctor's parish priest, the Rev. Robert Romney, D.D. Vicar of St. Peter's, St. Alban's, who died in Dec. 1748, aet. 58, and when dying prophecied that his brother and heir the Rev. John Romney, M.A. Vicar of St. Stephen's near St. Alban's, and an inhabitant also of St. Peter's parish, "would not long enjoy his inheritance;" which prophecy was in reality fulfilled; for he died 26 June, 1746, aged only 49. The Doctor was twice married: 1. about the year 1738 to Miss Anne Pembroke (sister to George Pembroke, esq. formerly of St. Alban's, Receiver-general for the County of Hertford, and to Mr. Joseph Pembroke, Town Clerk of the borough of St. Alban's), who was buried 14 April, 1749; by her he had issue 1, Mary, who became the second wife of John Osborn, esq. of St. Alban's, and died without issue 2 Nov. 1799, aged 50; 2. Anne, who became the second wife of Major Brooke, of Bath, and died 13 July, 1800, aged 58, leaving a son, who is since dead unmarried, and a daughter, married to Mr. Carisbrook, an officer in the Gloucestershire Militia, who is also dead, leaving her his widow, with two children; 3. Nathaniel, who was entered of Jesus College, Cambridge, where he proceeded B.A. 1766, and M.A. 1769, and is now Vicar of Wilford, at Welford in Northamptonshire: he is married, and has a family of 8 or 10 children; 4, Joseph, formerly captain of a ship in the service of the East India Company, and Chairman of the Court of Directors of the East India Dock Company, Deputy Master of the Trinity House, and some time since appointed Lieutenant-colonel Commandant of a Flotilla of Fencibles, destined to protect the mouth of the River Thames: he married Charlotte daughter of John Harrison, esq. of Charter-house-square, a Director of the East India Company and the Bank, by whom he also has a numerous family; 5. Phoebe, married to George Bradshaw esq. but is dead without issue; 6. Katherine, who died unmarried 2 Dec. 1780, aged 32, and is buried under an altar tomb in the church-yard of St. Peter, St. Alban's, with the two following lines under her name:

Time was like thee she life possess'd,
And time shall be that thou shalt rest.

Besides another son and daughter who died infants. The Doctor married secondly, in 1750 or 51, Miss Hannah Everett, who was buried 19 May, 1772, having had issue, 1, John, now residing on a large farm, the property of his brother Joseph, at High Street Green in the parish of Hamel Hemstead; 2, a daughter, who died an infant; 3, another daughter, Elizabeth, married to John Clarke, esq. in the commission of the peace for the county of Hertford, residing on the farm of Sandridge Bury, the property of Earl Spencer, where she died in January 1797, leaving a daughter Katherine. The Doctor died 2 August, 1788, very far advanced in years: what his age exactly was probably no one knew, for the person who entered his burial in the parish register wrote after his name, "aged 88 at least." He was buried with his two wives in St. Peter's church-yard, under an altar-tomb between those of his two daughters Mary and Katherine, on which nothing more is inscribed than the following: "Here are deposited the remains of Anne, Hannah, and Nathaniel Cotton."

B.