The magic skin represents the owner's life-force, which is depleted through every expression of will, especially when it is employed for the acquisition of power. Ignoring a caution from the shopkeeper who offers him the skin, the protagonist greedily surrounds himself with wealth, only to find himself miserable and decrepit at the story's end.
Magic Skin, The (‘La Peau de Chagrin’), by Honoré de Balzac. This forms one of the ‘Philosophic Studies’ of the great Frenchman. In 1829 a young man, in despair because of failure to succeed in his chosen career, tries the gaming table. He meets an old man, who revives his interest in life by showing him a piece of skin, bearing in Arabic an inscription promising to the owner the gratification of every wish. But with each request granted the skin becomes smaller. The life of the possessor is lessened as the enchanted skin diminishes. The unknown young man seizes the skin, crying “A short life but a merry one!”