From his youth he was diligent in his studies and a great reader, and during his college life showed a marked talent for extemporaneous speaking.
Unfortunately his extemporaneous speeches were commonplace, in very bad taste, fervently intemperate and denunciatory; and though this was probably due largely to temperament and habits of stump-speaking formed in early life, it was attributed by his enemies to drink.
He sat behind a low desk, with a few jottings on slips of paper, or textbooks marked on the margin, before him, and delivered an extemporaneous address, opening up the subject by partial glimpses, and with many anecdotes or familiar illustrations, till a complete idea of it was presented.
Vergniaud made a brilliant extemporaneous reply, and the attack for the moment failed.
Licensed to preach in 1791, he was engaged for several years as an itinerant Presbyterian preacher in his native state, and acquired during this period the facility in extemporaneous speaking for which he was remarkable.
As a speaker Mill was somewhat hesitating, pausing occasionally as if to recover the thread of his argument, but he showed great readiness in extemporaneous debate.
With a patience foreign to his impulsive nature, he submitted to minute drill in elocution, and became a fluent extemporaneous speaker.
On the whole, the preponderating preference has always been in favour of so-called extemporaneous, or free prayer; and the Westminster Directory of Public Worship has to a large extent stereotyped the form and order of the service in most Presbyterian churches.
The custom of delivering expositions or comments more or less extemporaneous on the lessons of the day at all events passed over soon and readily into the Christian Church, as may be gathered from the first Apology (c. 67) of Justin Martyr, where we read that, in connexion with the practice of reading portions from the collected writings of the prophets and from the memoirs of the apostles, it had by that time become usual for the presiding minister to deliver a discourse in which "he admonishes the people, stirring them up to an imitation of the good works which have been brought before their notice."
But it was rather in the chants and litanies of the ancient religion, such as those of the Salii and the Fratres Arvales, and the dirges for the dead (neniae), and in certain extemporaneous effusions, that some germs of a native poetry might have been detected; and finally in the use of Saturnian verse, a metre of pure native origin, which by its rapid and lively movement gave expression to the vivacity and quick apprehension of the Italian race.