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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.