I’ve been reading the Miscellany Poems (1691) of Thomas Heyrick. In themselves, quite interesting, but surpassed in artistry by his prefatory material dedicating the collection to Katherine, Countess of Rutland. Being a clergyman obviously gives you a certain edge when it comes to the art of flattery (all that practice, after all), and Heyrick laid it on shamelessly:
In case her attention flagged when the poems themselves started, Heyrick followed up with another effusion, this time a rhapsody in verse:
… the bold Artist, that of You would speak,
Should Patterns from Celestial Natures take;
And stamp his Soul in an Angelick Mold;
Er'e he Your Vertues should attempt to' unfold …
… He that, how Good, of Great You are, would show,
Had need the Depth of Heavenly wisdom know:
For all we deal with here doth flag too low.
Angels the Mighty work should undertake …
… Had but the Early Centuries, that could find
The Vertues and the Graces Woman-kind,
Seen the Fair Draughts of Your Celestial Mind:
New Sexes to their Deities they 'had given,
Nor left one Single God to rule in Heaven.
This imagining of a heaven filled with Goddesses all modeled on her seems to leave reference to Olympus behind, and half-indicate that he is ready to worship her in place of God. As he has been doing: that he’s a clergyman just adds to the value of it all. Then he gets started on her children.
I’ve since been browsing on the MLA database, and really, there doesn’t seem to be enough scholarship on what was, for the early modern author, a most important form of writing. Among the potentially interesting pieces are Andrew McCrae on ‘The Poetics of Sycophancy: Ben Jonson and the Caroline Court’ and Frank Whigham on ‘The Rhetoric of Elizabethan Suitor’s Letters’, but there seems to be a large gap in relation to the master himself, John Donne, and no obvious single study. But it is the kind of thing that early criticism did remark upon: I recall Dr Johnson weighing up whether Dryden or Aphra Behn was the better butterer.
Maybe there have been conferences (and what fun they would have been, if everyone rose to the subject in an orgy of co-laudation). My picture is of course Van Dyck doing the Duke and Duchess of Buckingham as Venus and Adonis.