"HERE WAS A royal fellowship of death," Shakespeare has Henry V declare after hearing the toll of French high-born slain in the battle of Agincourt. The same thought must have occurred often in thoroughly republican America this past weekend with the disappearance of John F. Kennedy Jr.'s plane off Martha's Vineyard. We have no royalty here, of course, but we do have the trappings of its modern version -- the gossip magazines, bothersome photographers, family legacies and obligations -- and by far the greatest part of them are visited on the Kennedy family, with its melodramatic history of striving and accomplishment, personal tragedy and untimely death.
John F. Kennedy Jr., downed in an air crash -- like his father's brother Joseph and sister Kathleen many years ago -- bore the Diana-like attention to his every action with about as much good grace and humor as could be asked of him. He accepted as his lot, if he did not particularly desire, the endless procession of double takes and exclamations from perfect strangers that a life such as his inevitably becomes.
Now his accident will be relentlessly scrutinized, his judgment in making his last flight questioned, his youth, glamor and fine looks remembered, his family's many sadnesses clucked over. One of Mr. Kennedy's friends recalled yesterday that when Washington College in Maryland wished to confer an honorary doctorate on him a while back, Mr. Kennedy declined. He'd be glad to make a speech, he said, but he didn't think himself worthy of the degree. We suspect that there was a lot of Mr. Kennedy in that simple declaration, and it would be nice if his memory could be distilled in such a moment. Impossible, of course, but nice, and more fitting than what we're likely to see.