Abstract

Adam Smith's biographers have been in no doubt how important his experiences of living and working among Glasgow's merchant community were to the content of The Wealth of Nations. Many Smith scholars who themselves have been based in the city go further. They insist on the essential Scottishness of the text, seeing Glasgow as the indispensable intermediary between lowland Scotland's town-and-country dynamics and its insertion into global trading routes. However, Glasgow plays no explicit part in the way Smith chose to construct his arguments. This juxtaposition between the fundamental feeling that a work can elicit for a particular reading community and the words that actually appear on the page prompts the methodological question of how to proceed when encountering an apparent absence in a text. The reader does not possess a privileged access point from which to offer correctives by way of asserting that certain knowledge should have been present even though it is not. An absence from the text does not equate to missing text in the form of an obviously anomalous omission. Studies of the historical backdrop against which Smith was writing cannot be given the same authority when interpreting The Wealth of Nations as his direct communication to the reader of his views on the relationship between text and context. We may know more than he chose to reveal about his social and cultural embeddedness within the Glaswegian merchant community, but at most this knowledge can only provide an extra perspective when the matter at hand is textual interpretation. It is not a direct substitute for what Smith chose not to say.

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