On the Sophists
(11) Would it not be ludicrous if, when the herald announces, `Who of the citizens wishes to speak?', or, when the water-clock in the courtroom is already flowing, the orator should proceed to his writing-tablets to compose and memorize his speech? Verily, if we were tyrants of cities, we should have the power to convene the courts and give counsel relative to public affairs so as to call the citizens to the hearing after we have had time to write our speeches. But, since others have this power, is it not silly for us to practise aught save extemporaneous speech?
(12) The truth is that speeches which have been laboriously worked out with elaborate diction (compositions more akin to poetry than prose) are deficient in spontaneity and truth, and, since they give the impression of a mechanical artificiality and labored insincerity, they inspire an audience with distrust and ill-will.
(13) And the greatest proof is this, that those who write for the lawcourts seek to avoid this pedantic precision, and imitate the style of extempore speakers; and they make the most favorable impression when their speeches least resemble written discourses. Now, since speeches seem most convincing when they imitate extemporaneous speakers, should we not especially esteem that kind of training which shall readily give us ability in this form of speaking?
(14) I think that for this reason also we must hold written speeches in disesteem, that they involve their composers in inconsistency; for it is inherently impossible to employ written speeches on all occasions. And so, when a speaker in part speaks extemporaneously, and in part uses a set form, he inevitably involves himself in culpable inconsistency, and his speech appears in a measure histrionic and rhapsodic, and in a measure mean and trivial in comparison with the artistic finish of the others.
(15) It is strange that the man who lays claim to culture, and professes to teach others, if he possess a writing-tablet or manuscript, is then able to reveal his wisdom, but lacking these is no better than the untutored; strange, too, that, if time be given him, he is able to produce a discourse, but, when a proposal is submitted for immediate discussion, he has less voice than the layman, and, although he profess skill in eloquence, he appears to have no ability whatsoever in speaking. So true it is that devotion to writing conduces to utter inability in speaking.
(16) When one becomes accustomed to slow and meticulous composition, with extreme care rhythmically connecting phrases, perfecting style with slow excogitation, it inevitably follows that, when he essays extemporaneous speech to which he is unaccustomed, he is mentally embarrassed and confused; in every respect he makes an unfavorable impression, and differs not a wit from the voiceless, and through lack of ready presence of mind is quite unable to handle his material fluently and winningly.
(17) Similarly, just as those who are loosed after long confinement in bonds are unable to walk normally, but still must proceed in the same fashion and manner as when previously inhibited, so, the practice of writing, by making sluggish the mental processes, and by giving the opposite sort of training in speaking, produces an unready and fettered speaker, deficient in all extemporaneous fluency.
(18) To learn extemporaneous speeches is, in my opinion, difficult, and the memorizing likewise is laborious, and to forget the set speech in the trial of a case is disgraceful. Everyone would agree that it is harder to learn and commit to memory details than main heads, and similarly many points than few. In extemporaneous speech the mind must be concerned only with reference to the main topics, which are elaborated as the speaker proceeds. But, where the speech is previously written, there is need to learn and carefully to commit to memory, not merely the main topics, but words and syllables.
(19) Now the main topics in a speech are but few, and they are important, but words and phrases are numerous and unimportant, and differ little one from another. Then, too, each topic is brought forward once only, but words, often the same ones, are used again and again. Thus it is that to memorize topics is easy, but to learn by heart an entire speech, word by word, is difficult and onerous.