Page images

“Sir John Taylor Coleridge was one of the most superior and highly-cultivated persons who ever adorned that famous tribunal. His career at Eton and Oxford was extremely brilliant. His academical successes did not prevent his working hard at law in London. He became an accomplished jurist and successful practitioner, but he never abandoned literature. After he procured his retirement, the Attorney-General thus expressed the admiration of the bar for his judicial character: To a clear and powerful intellect, to legal and constitutional learning, at once acute and profound, to a patient and unwearied assiduity and attention, he added the scarcely less important qualities of unvarying courtesy of demeanour, evenness of temper and kindness of heart.' — Vol. i. p. 20." A few years before the elevation of Mr. Justice Coleridge to the bench, his illustrious relative, Samuel Coleridge, had thus written on the subject, and substantially he agreed with Arnold :

“I think that upon the whole the advocate is placed in a position unfavourable to his moral being; and, indeed, to his intellect also, in its higher powers. Therefore I would recommend an advocate to devote a part of his leisure time to some study, such as metaphysics, or theology, something, I mean, which should call forth all his powers, and engage his mind in the investigation of truth alone, without reference to a side to be supported. No studies give such a power of distinguishing as metaphysics, and in their natural and unperverted tendency they are ennobling and exalting."

We know how admirably these sentiments were inculcated by the precept and example of Mr. Justice Coleridge, nor can it be doubted that the tendency of the metaphysical studies here described by their illustrious relative, in augmenting the “power of distinguishing,” is highly conducive and advantageous to the mind either of an advocate or a judge. Educated at Oxford, where those studies prevail, they had their full influence on his mind, and that general culture of intellect, which is seen in Oxford men, was finely displayed in his career.

When Mr. Coleridge commenced his career as an advocate the unhappy tendency of advocacy was counteracted by all the influences which the highest mental culture

and the purest moral principles could apply. Nevertheless no one who saw the fine power of a Coleridge employed as often, unavoidably, it was, in defending guilt or advocating injustice, could avoid feeling a sentiment of repugnance, and hoping that the advocate felt it too. There is little doubt that the son, like the father, yearned for the exercise of the judicial office, so much more fitted for the character of his mind and moral nature, and in less than 9 or 10 years after being called to the bar he attained it, being made, in 1855, Recorder of Portsmouth. He could now, in the exercise of judicial duties as well as in studying the fine model of judicial excellence presented in the example of his father, train his own faculties, and form his own character, in preparation for the higher judicial station to which, no doubt, he aspired. Before his father retired from the bench, 1858, he had the happiness of seeing his son's brilliant success at the bar admired, and of knowing that his future elevation to judicial dignity was secure. Three years afterwards, Mr. Coleridge attained to the rank of Queen's Counsel, and four years afterwards he obtained his seat in Parliament, and commenced his Parliamentary career, which proved equally successful. In three years, on the formation of Mr. Gladstone's administration in 1868, Mr. Coleridge became Solicitor-General, and in 1871, on the promotion of Sir Robert Collier to the Privy Council, Sir J. D. Coleridge became AttorneyGeneral. Three years more, and then, just after assisting in passing a measure to reconstruct our judicial system, he ascends to the judicial bench as the chief of a great court, and becomes Lord Chief Justice of the Common Pleas. It is natural to expect that with such culture, and after such a career, Sir John Coleridge ought to have a distinguished judicial career, and there is no doubt that the expectation will be realized.

It has been the fate of the writer to see six chiefs of this court — Tindal, Wilde, and Jervis, Erle, Cockburn, and Coleridge-and he ventures to predict that the last will be

inferior to none of his predecessors who are remembered. All agree that he has a large well-cultivated mind, and a great capacity for the study of jurisprudence as a science. The Saturday Review had these remarks upon the appointment:

“Even if custom did not give the Attorney-General the place, Sir John Coleridge would have had an indisputable claim to fill it. He has now and then shown a width of view and a general grasp of a considerable question which have done much to increase his reputation.. Opinions will vary as to whether it is likely that he will do more than fill the office in an adequate and satisfactory manner. In the discussion of mere legal points he has not established more than an average reputation. To be eminent as a lawyer, however, is only one of the qualifications of a good Chief Justice. He has other functions, the discharge of which, in a masterly manner, lies at the bottom of much of the respect which in England is generally felt for the heart of the law. He has to maintain the dignity of the Court, and make juries and listeners feel that they are in the presence of a superior person, and he has to show on the occasion of important trials, that he can bring together disjointed facts, and weave threads of various colours and tinctures, into a whole on which an opinion can be satisfactorily pronounced. In these spheres of official duty, Sir John Coleridge is sure to attain a success beyond the average of success, attained by his predecessors in office. He will look, and behave, like a Chief Justice, and this is an advantage, which no one will underrate who understands that Chief Justices live in a little world of listeners, who wait to see and hear them before it forms an estimate of the amount of respect and admiration due to them." The Daily News had some admirable observations :

" Nature and art have combined to make him one of the most finished advocates the English Bar has ever seen. A commanding presence, a singular charm of voice and manner, a rich but disciplined style, a graceful and penetrating scholarship, a tone of high breeding, and unbending honour—these are among the gifts and acquirements which make Sir John Coleridge the most finished orator at the Bar; in some respects, we might add, one of the most finished orators of his age. Unlike many of those who pass from the strife of Parliament to the repose of the Bench, Sir John Coleridge, at the head of the Common Pleas, will by no means find his occupation gone."

"In a Court of Law there are other things besides legal knowledge which go to the making of a successful Judge. The English people love to see their Courts presided over by men whose character, intellect, and bearing give dignity to the administration of justice. The respect of the subject is essential to the proper execution of the laws, and for this purpose we must have Judges who are something more than mere lawyers. An English Judge, and especially an English Chief Justice, should certainly be a lawyer, but if possible he should also be a scholar and a gentleman. To all three characters Sir John Coleridge has a powerful hereditary claim. As he has said himself, he is an Oxford lawyer, and the son of an Oxford Judge. The venerable Sir John Taylor Coleridge has had the rare felicity of living to see his son complete a career which, at the University, at the Bar, and on the Bench, has been but a repetition, only with still higher distinction of his own.”

In this respect, indeed, the elevation of Sir John Coleridge to such a high judicial position, higher than that attained by his father, is, it is believed, almost without precedent in the history of the English Bench

The Law Journal had these remarks :

“We cannot doubt that Sir John will prove himself a worthy successor to the many great and learned men who have dispensed justice for centuries past in the Pleas at Westminster. So eloquent and mighty an advocate as Sir John must prove himself an accomplished judge at Nisi Prius. Though not equally strong as counsel on mere points of law, Sir John had that lucidity of expression which in ninety-nine cases out of a hundred is the reflex of a clear understanding; and, although his stock of legal learning may be but moderate, his intellectual power is amply sufficient to comprehend and appreciate the most abstruse and difficult problems of law. Neither would we undervalue the dignity of presence, the serenity of disposition, and the grace of diction for which Sir John is famous, for these are qualities which greatly adorn the Chief of a Court, tend to harmony between the bench and the bar, and secure order and the expedition of business."

And the Law Times observes :

“With his fine faculty of speech he unites a singular capacity for apprehending rapidly the legal bearings of a case and applying legal principles. For this reason we anticipate that he will make an admirable Judge."

The elevation of Sir John Coleridge and Sir George Jessel to the Bench, vacated the offices of Attorney-General and

Solicitor-General, and the way in which they were filled gave rise to some observations with reference to the judicial bench. The appointments to those offices have a prospective interest to the profession and the public, because they are usually supposed to confer a kind of title to judicial office, and, therefore, to imply the possession of judicial qualifications. The chief of these qualifications, in the general opinion of mankind, are legal training, natural ability, and sound judgment, but in this country, by a traditional feeling very characteristic of the practical habit of mind, they are all supposed to be best secured by extensive forensic practice. The result has been, as men in large practice are hardly ever men of much learning, even in our own law, still less in jurisprudence, our judges are not necessarily lawyers, and are rarely jurists. Sir John Coleridge in our age as Blackstone in his own, was among the rare exceptions to the rule and there have been others, but still only exceptions. In former times these exceptional instances were certain to be selected by a discerning Chancellor for judicial promotion, and thus it was that men like Blackstone, with hardly any practice, and Sir John Taylor Coleridge without much, were made judges, and proved ornaments to the Bench. But the Reform Act, in this, and innumerable other ways, introduced disturbing causes into the actual working of our constitution, most pernicious in their operation. One of these is the fatal necessity of parliamentary influence, and the consequent preponderance of parliamentary considerations in the appointments even to legal judicial offices. The Times truly observed : “ The choice of a Solicitor-General must be governed rather by political than legal considerations. It is necessary that the man selected should be learned in the law, it is more necessary that he should be powerful and effective in debate.”

Other names, it was added, will be discussed, and among these were some who, no doubt, will be consoled by the avowal that the preference for their brilliant rivals was dictated by political rather than legal considerations. As to Mr.

« PreviousContinue »