philosopher's stone and the elixir of life
These are two of the major preoccupations of alchemy. The philosopher's stone could
convert all metal into what was considered its most refined form, the
element gold. The elixir of life would instill perpetual youth. The title
figure of William Godwin's second
novel, St. Leon (1799)
is given both the stone and the elixir by an old man whom he saves from
the Inquisition, and they effectively ruin his life. (Godwin's preface to the novel suggests his larger
purposes here.) Mary Shelley, who,
we recall, dedicated this novel to
Godwin, in its pages thus frequently nods approvingly in his direction.
The connection to the alchemical theme of St. Leon was
commented on with derision by the Quarterly Review.