What is the meaning of [A nation of shopkeepers]

This proverbial saying has a straightforward literal meaning, although it is intended to imply criticism of the English as a nation with little ambition.

There’s a veiled criticism in this saying, that the English are fit for little else, and it comes as no surprise that the two contenders who might claim coinage of it come from two nations with some disdain for the English – the Scots and the French.

The Scottish economist Adam Smith, in his Wealth of Nations, 1776, wrote:

“To found a great empire for the sole purpose of raising up a people of customers, may at first sight, appear a project fit only for a nation of shopkeepers. It is, however, a project altogether unfit for a nation of shopkeepers, but extremely fit for a nation whose government is influenced by shopkeepers. “