PRIOR TO THE MIDDLE of the nineteenth century, Europeans had heard of Buddhism, if at all, as an aside in tales of the exotic Orient in which the Buddha figured as a minor Hindu deity or a celestial sun god. Eastern thought had trickled back toward the seats of Western empires for centuries along the same routes used for tea and opium, but serious engagement with that thought only began in the late eighteenth century with translations of the Bhagavadgita, and systematic study of Eastern sacred texts did not begin in France, Germany, and England until around the 1820s.I draw here and throughout on a number of historical studies, in particular Almond, Batchelor, Lopez, and Welbon. As Almond notes, it was only in the first half of the century “that the term ‘Buddha’ (‘Buddoo’, ‘Bouddha’, ‘Boudhou’, etc.) began to gain currency… and that the term ‘Buddhism’ first made its appearance in English in the scholarly journals which appeared, in part at least, as a consequence of the developing imperial interest of both England and France in the Orient“ (7). The first English study of Buddhism that I have found is Upham (1829). As late as the 1860s, but rapidly at that point, Buddhism “hit” Europe, becoming a wide-spread topic that peaked in London's “Buddhism-steeped Nineties” and then declined after the turn of the century (Caracciolo 30).This claim is supported by the fact that a search of the PCI (Periodicals Content Index) database for articles published with “Buddha” or “Buddhism” in the title reveals this pattern: 3 in the period 1840–50; 0 in 1851–60; 13 in 1861–70; 74 in 1871–80; 148 in 1881–90; 367 in 1891–1900; 287 in 1901–10; and 243 in 1911–20. One indicator of burgeoning British interest was the publication in the last three decades of the century of at least three book-length poems recounting the life of Buddha. In particular, Edwin Arnold's The Light of Asia. Being The Life and Teaching of Gautama, Prince of India and Founder of Büddhism (1879) became a best-seller in Europe, India, and America and was credited with inspiring conversions to Buddhism, as well as with influencing Rudyard Kipling's creation of the character of the Teshoo Lama in Kim (1901).The other two poems I refer to are Philips's The Story of Gautama Buddha and his Creed: An Epic (1871) and Alexander's Sakya-Muni: The Story of Buddha (1887), which was the Newdigate Prize poem at Oxford in 1887. The most famous conversion attributed to reading The Light of Asia was of Charles Bennett, who in 1901 became Ananda Metteyya, the first British Buddhist monk. As Humphreys puts it in The Development of Buddhism in England, Bennett, “like many before him and untold thousands since, found that a new world of spiritual adventure was opened before his eyes” by The Light of Asia (13). On Arnold's influence on Kipling, see Whitlark “Nineteenth-Century ‘Nirvana Talk’.” The initial premise of this essay is that through the latter decades of the century themes and figures drawn in part or whole from Buddhism increasingly made their way into British literary discourse. This appears to be especially true of “sensational” and “romance” novels, a fact significant in itself for understanding how Buddhism filtered into British culture (though full consideration of the relationship between those sub-genres and Eastern thought will have to await another occasion). But to the extent that one can detect such concepts as reincarnation, karma, and nirvana, for instance, in works of literature of the time, they generally are hybridized with Christian, Gnostic, Rosicrucian, alchemical, Greek pantheistic, ancient Egyptian, and other occult figures. This hybridization is another significant aspect of the ways in which Victorians struggled to construct a Buddhism in their own image. Buddhism pervaded late nineteenth-century European thought, though diffusely. It was woven into the complex fabric of discourses concerning empire, the crisis in Christianity (recently exacerbated by Schopenhauer, Darwin, and Nietzsche, among others), and the general perception that spirituality had come under increasing threat in a society dominated by the materialism of the market and the rationality of science.On the influence of Buddhism on Schopenhauer and Nietzsche, see Welbon and Schwab, as well as analysis in Dumoulin.