COLERIDGE, JOHN DUKE BARON (182o-1894), lord chief justice of England, was the eldest son of Sir John Taylor Coleridge. He was born at Heath's Court, Ottery St. Mary, on Dec. 3, 182o. He was educated at Eton and Balliol college, Oxford, of which he was a scholar. He was called to the bar in 1846, went the western circuit, and in 1865 he was returned as member for Exeter in the Liberal interest. The heads of his party determined in 1867 to put him forward as the pro tagonist of their attack on the Government, but the plan was frustrated by opposition within the party. In 1868 when the Liberals returned to power Coleridge was made first solicitor general and then attorney-general.
His arrival in parliament was an access of strength to the body of Oxford men who had attacked the legislation that kept the university under ecclesiastical domination. In addition to his own talents he carried weight with the clerically-minded section as the son of Sir John Coleridge, the godson of Keble, and great nephew of the man who was an indirect cause of the Anglican revival of 1833—Coleridge the poet.
The Tichborne trial was the most conspicuous feature of Coleridge's later years at the bar, and tasked his powers as an advocate to the uttermost, though he was assisted by Charles (afterwards Lord) Bowen. In November 1873 Coleridge suc ceeded Sir W. Bovill as chief justice of the common pleas, and was immediately afterwards raised to the peerage as Baron Cole ridge of Ottery St. Mary. In 188o he was made lord chief justice.
In jury cases his quickness in apprehending facts and his lucidity in arranging them were very remarkable indeed. He was not one of the most learned of lawyers, but he was a great deal more learned than many people thought, and as an ecclesiastical lawyer had few superiors. His fault—natural in one who had been so successful as an advocate—was that of being too prone to take one side, and he allowed political or personal prepossessions to colour the tone of his remarks from the bench. Latterly his health failed, and he became somewhat indolent. On the whole, he was not so strong a man in a judicial capacity as Campbell or Cockburn; but it must be admitted that his scholarship, his refinement, his power of oratory, and his character raised the tone of the bench during his occupancy, and that if it has been adorned by greater judicial abilities, it has hardly ever known a greater combination of varied merits. Coleridge died on June 14, Coleridge's addresses and papers have not been published. One of the best and most eminently characteristic of the man, was his inaugural address to the Philosophical Institution at Edinburgh in 187o; another was a paper on Wordsworth (1873). He was an exceptionally good letter-writer. Of travel he had very little experience. He had hardly been to Paris; once, quite near the end of his career, he spent a few days in Holland, and came back a willing slave to the genius of Rembrandt; but his longest absence from England was a visit, of a representative legal character, to the United States. He had an extraordinary store of anecdote-, which were nearly always connected with Eton, Oxford, the bar or the bench. His exquisite voice, considerable power of mimicry, arid perfect method of narration added greatly to the charm. John Duke Coleridge was sarcastic and critical, and at times over-sensitive. But his strongest characteristics were love of liberty and justice. By birth and connection Conservative, he was a Liberal by conviction, and loyal to his party and its great leader, Gladstone.