Benjamin Franklin? John Ruskin? Harry Emerson Fosdick? Mae A. Byrnes? Dan Crawford? Anonymous?
Dear Quote Investigator: An individual who is self-absorbed typically experiences a diminished life and does not achieve great renown. Here are four versions of a figurative saying on this theme:
- A man wrapped up in himself makes a very small bundle.
- A person all wrapped up in herself makes a pretty small package.
- When a man is wrapped up in himself, he makes a very small parcel.
- People who are entirely wrapped up in themselves make pretty small packages.
This expression has been attributed to U.S. statesman Benjamin Franklin, English art critic John Ruskin, and U.S. pastor Harry Emerson Fosdick.
Quote Investigator: QI has found no substantive evidence that this expression was used by Benjamin Franklin or John Ruskin. It was employed by Harry Emerson Fosdick by 1942, but only after it had been circulating for decades.
This saying is difficult to trace because it can be phrased in many different ways. The earliest instances located by QI were anonymous. A comical precursor evincing disdain for the self-absorbed appeared in a Nebraska newspaper in 1899. Emphasis added to excerpts: 1
People who are all wrapped up in themselves ought to be bundled off together.
In 1904 a match occurred for the saying in a Clarksville, Tennessee. newspaper. The anonymous statement appeared together with miscellaneous items under the title “Bubbles”. The word “small” was absent: 2
People who are wrapped up in themselves are bound to be bundles of self conceit.
Five days later the same statement appeared in an Okolona, Mississippi newspaper under the title “Gathered Gems”. 3
Below are additional selected citations in chronological order.
In 1907 an instance appeared in a Topeka, Kansas newspaper with other sayings under the title “Quaker Reflections”, and the paper acknowledged “The Philadelphia Record”. The words “bundle”, “package”, and “parcel” were all absent: 4
The people who are wrapped up in themselves are generally pretty small.
The statement immediately above appeared in several newspapers in Kansas in the same year, e.g., “The Galena Evening Times” of Galena, Kansas. 5
In 1908 the periodical “Life” of New York printed the saying: 6
The people who are all wrapped up in themselves are generally pretty small
In 1910 “The Washington Post” published a version with the word “package” that used a different word ordering while acknowledging the “Chicago News”: 7
A small package—Any man who is wrapped up in himself.
In 1917 a paper in Junction City, Kansas printed this instance: 8
The man who is entirely wrapped up in himself generally carries a mighty small package.—University Kansan.
In 1921 the “Kendrick Gazette” of Idaho printed this: 9
It has been wisely said that a person who is entirely wrapped up in himself is a pretty small package.
In 1922 the religious periodical “The Herald and Presbyter” printed a variant using the word “parcel” instead of “bundle” or “package”: 10
We sometimes speak of men and women—even Christian men and women—being “wrapped up in themselves,” and when a man is wrapped up in himself he makes a pretty small parcel—when he has shrunk to that size so that he can be wrapped up in himself, there is not much to wrap up.
In 1923 the “Daily News” of New York City printed mottoes that were sent to the paper by the public. The saying was submitted by a stenographer: 11
“When a man is wrapped up in himself, he makes a pretty small parcel.”
— Mae A. Byrnes, Stenographer, 663 Greenwich Street.
The DAILY NEWS will pay $5 for every motto printed. Limit your thought to fifteen words.
In 1923 “The Honolulu Advertiser” of Hawaii printed a lengthy address from a pastor who gave an attribution for the saying: 12
Dan Crawford has said that ‘A man who is all wrapped up in himself makes a mighty small package!’ The same truth applies to a nation.
In 1942 a prominent minister received credit in the pages of a Tucson, Arizona newspaper: 13
A man who is all wrapped up in himself makes a mighty small package.
HARRY EMERSON FOSDICK.
In 1943 Fosdick published the book “On Being a Real Person”, and he used the expression without attribution: 14
All the way from social embarrassment to insanity, therefore, egocentricity is ruinous to real personality. At the very best, a person completely wrapped up in himself makes a small package.
In 1944 a newspaper presented highlights from a speech delivered to a group of young women, and a version of the saying with “herself” instead of “himself” was included: 15
After diagraming an ego-centric person, he commented that a person all wrapped up in herself makes a pretty small package.
In June 1946 a columnist in a Zanesville, Ohio newspaper implausibly attributed the saying to one of the Founding Fathers of the United States who had died in 1790: 16
“A man wrapped up in himself makes a very small bundle.”
In September 1946 an advertisement for church attendance in a Covina, California newspaper unconvincingly attributed the saying to a prominent art critic who had died in 1900: 17
“When a man is wrapped up in himself, he makes a pretty small package.” —John Ruskin
In 1949 quotation collector Evan Esar credited Ruskin in “The Dictionary of Humorous Quotations”: 18
RUSKIN, John, 1819-1900, English art critic, social reformer, and miscellaneous writer.
When a man is wrapped up in himself he makes a pretty small package.
In conclusion, the phrasing of this saying has evolved over time. The first strong match located by QI occurred in 1904, and that remark was anonymous; other early instances were also anonymous. The ascriptions to Benjamin Franklin and John Ruskin are currently unsupported.
Image Notes: Illustration showing two red and white packages from qimono at Pixabay. Image has been resized and cropped.
(Great thanks to Eric Columbus whose inquiry led QI to formulate this question and perform this exploration. Columbus noted the existence of attributions to Benjamin Franklin and John Ruskin.)
- 1899 April 3, The Nebraska State Journal, Bulletin Bubbles, Quote Page 4, Column 6, Lincoln, Nebraska. (Newspapers_com) ↩
- 1904 May 06, Daily Leaf-Chronicle, Bubbles, Quote Page 5, Column 5, Clarksville, Tennessee. (Newspapers_com) ↩
- 1904 May 11, Okolona Messenger, Gathered Gems, Quote Page 3, Column 1, Okolona, Mississippi. (GenealogyBank) ↩
- 1907 October 1, The Topeka State Journal, Quaker Reflections (From the Philadelphia Record), Quote Page 4, Column 7, Topeka, Kansas. (Newspapers_com) ↩
- 1907 October 2, The Galena Evening Times, Pointers From Our Advertisers and Various Exchanges, Quote Page 2, Column 3, Galena, Kansas. (Newspapers_com) ↩
- 1908 June 18, Life, All the News That’s Fit to Print, Quote Page 672, Life Publishing Company, New York. (Google Books Full View) link ↩
- 1910 June 3, The Washington Post, Pointed Paragraphs (From Chicago News), Quote Page 6, Column 7, Washington, District of Columbia. (Newspapers_com) ↩
- 1917 May 31, The Junction City Sentinel, (Filler item), Quote Page 5, Column 1, Junction City, Kansas. (Newspapers_com) ↩
- 1921 May 6, Kendrick Gazette, (Filler item), Quote Page 2, Column 2, Kendrick, Idaho. (Newspapers_com) ↩
- 1922 March 1, The Herald and Presbyter, Volume 93, Number 9, Small Packages, Quote Page 19, Column 3, Monfort & Company, Cincinnati, Ohio. (HathiTrust Full View) link ↩
- 1923 June 2, Daily News, (Motto at the top of the page), Quote Page 11, Column 1, New York, New York. (Newspapers_com) ↩
- 1923 November 13, The Honolulu Advertiser, Pastor Says Christian Internationalism Only Safeguard Against War, Quote Page 2, Column 5, Honolulu, Hawaii. (Newspapers_com) ↩
- 1942 January 19, The Arizona Daily Star, Gleanings, Quote Page 8, Column 4, Tucson, Arizona. (Newspapers_com) ↩
- 1943, On Being a Real Person by Harry Emerson Fosdick, Chapter 4: Getting Oneself Off One’s Hands, Quote Page 83 and 84, Harper & Brothers, New York. (Verified with scans) ↩
- 1944 March 4, The Daily Record, Tri Hi-Y Girls Hears Talk On Growing Up, Quote Page 4, Column 5, Long Branch, New Jersey. (Newspapers_com) ↩
- 1946 June 12, The Zanesville Signal, Lifelines by Walter Seifert (Epigraph), Quote Page 5, Column 3, Zanesville, Ohio. (Newspapers_com) ↩
- 1946 September 6, The Covina Argus-Citizen, (Advertisement for Covina Inter-Church Men’s Brotherhood), Quote Page 3, Column 6, Covina, California. (Newspapers_com) ↩
- 1949, The Dictionary of Humorous Quotations, Edited by Evan Esar, Section: John Ruskin, Quote Page 174, Doubleday, Garden City, New York. (Verified on paper in 1989 reprint edition from Dorset Press, New York) ↩