Context: The Corsair is one of Byron's so-called "Turkish tales," which include The Giaour (1813), The Bride of Abydos (1813), and Lara (1814). The setting of these tales is the Near East, particularly Turkey and the isles of Greece. The word corsair, as used by Byron, means "pirate," though the term is more properly applied to privateers licensed by the Turkish Government and operating out of North African ports. Byron's corsair is Conrad, a pirate chief in the Aegean Sea, whose "one virtue" seems to be a certain sense of chivalry which leads him to save the life of a female slave belonging to Seyd, the Turkish pacha. However, some of the periodical critics seemed to doubt that such a character could have even one virtue. The Edinburgh Review, for example, complained that "There is no intellectual dignity or accomplishment about any of his characters; and no very enlightened or equitable principles of morality" (XXIII, 1814). Byron replied to such strictures by quoting, in his notes, an American newsaper story about La Fitte, the New Orleans pirate, who had demonstrated his sense of chivalry by sparing the lives of an American officer and his men who had been sent to destroy him. The last two lines of the poem are:
He left a Corsair's name to other times,Link'd with one virtue, and a thousand crimes.