Coleridge, Stephen William Buchanan 1854-1936, author and anti-vivisectionist, was born in London 31 May 1854, the second son of John Duke (afterwards first Baron) Coleridge, lord chief justice of England [qv.], by his first wife, Jane Fortescue, daughter of the Rev. George Turner Seymour, of Farringford, Isle of Wight. He was brother of the judge B. J. C. Coleridge, second Baron Coleridge [qv.], and of Mr. Gilbert Coleridge, assistant master of the Crown Office from 1892 to 1921.
Stephen Coleridge did not go, as did his brothers, to Eton. He graduated from Trinity College, Cambridge, and after a year (1879-1880) spent in travel, became private secretary to his father (1884-1890). In 1886 he was called to the bar by the Middle Temple. In 1890 the lord chief justice appointed him clerk of assize for the South Wales circuit. His natural kindness and courtesy made him popular with the members of the circuit.
An inherited rhetorical faculty characterized Coleridge's writings both in prose and in verse. He appreciated good literature, and was an acceptable lecturer. His large output includes A Morning in my Library (1914), An Evening in my Library among the English Poets (1916), and other books of the same kind. He also published four volumes of Letters to my Grandson (1921-1923), telling him of the world about him, the happy life, and the glory of English prose and poetry. He had a pleasing amateur skill in painting, and showed at various exhibitions.
Coleridge was best known to the public for his outspoken attacks upon vivisection. Hatred of cruelty in all forms, especially to children and animals, was a marked feature of his character. He was one of the founders, in 1884, of the National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children. Although fond of games and outdoor pursuits, he disliked any sport that involved the taking of animal life, and became president of the League for the Prohibition of Cruel Sports. But he reserved his most violent denunciations for experiments, conducted in the interests of medical science, on living animals. In the opinion of many he carried his prejudices to unreasonable extremes. He would listen to no arguments which demonstrated the lifesaving value of the discoveries founded on vivisection, and went so far as to say that, even if the examples given to him were true, they were no justification for the practice. He even maintained that knowledge and reason were miserable bases on which to build conduct, character, and life. Such statements may well be thought to have damaged rather than furthered the cause which he advocated, and perhaps they did, but at the same time there must be hesitation in accepting this view without some qualification. Vivisection is not now the detestable and almost unmentionable horror that it was to the masses in the far-off days when Coleridge attacked it, but, on the evidence of those acquainted with the subject, is practised with more care for the alleviation or removal of animal suffering by the use of anaesthetics.
Coleridge was twice married: first, in 1879 to Geraldine Beatrix (died 1910), daughter and co-heir of Charles Manners Lushington, of Norton Court, Kent, and niece of Sir Stafford Northcote, first Earl of Iddesleigh [qv.]; secondly, in 1911 to Susan, second daughter of Allan Duncan Stewart, of Bun Rannoch and Inverhadden, Perthshire. By his first marriage he had three sons, the eldest of whom predeceased his father. Coleridge died at his home at Chobham, Surrey, 10 April 1936.
A cartoon of Coleridge by Elf appeared in Vanity Fair 27 July 1910.
The Times, 11 April 1936
Stephen Coleridge, Memories, 1913.
Contributor: Alfred Cochrane.